Monday, December 30, 2013

The end of the road

"But I never took heavy words for granted, and I never took the undeserved advantage, no, I never took the easy way."

After the admonishment I got at Animal Services for picking up sick cats, I was perfectly on board with not visiting the feline sick bay. So I wouldn't have expected my relationship with the shelter to get worse. It did. Much worse.

On Christmas Eve I was bitten quite severely by a cat.

There I was, all happy to be spending time with the cats the day before Christmas, happy that it had been a good week for adoptions, hoping there'd be a few more before the holiday.

I've never been bitten by a cat before. The most punishing thing about it was the reaction of the staff. I was sitting in the office bleeding while I was told that this was my second bite and if it happened again I wouldn't be allowed back.

Talk about blaming the victim. Not to mention that it had not happened before, not to me.

When I went to volunteer orientation at the shelter, the cats in the cat room had colored dots on their cage cards. A green dot meant a cat got along with all other cats and could be out with them. Yellow dots meant the cats got along with some other cats, although it was unclear how to tell which ones. Cats with red dots were labeled as not getting along with other cats.

As the weeks went by and cats left and new cats came, I noticed there were no colored dots on their cage cards. I also noticed that some of the red-dotted cats seemed meek enough. I even asked if they were ever re-evaluated, and the answer was yes, but none of the dots ever changed. At some point new cage cards were printed for all the cats and the dots disappeared.

So as I got to know the cats, I would let them out to play, a few at a time, and I'd watch them closely. If there was any sign of hostility, such as hissing, I'd put that cat back in its cage. The shelter staff was in and out of the room all the time and knew full well what I was doing. No one told me to only take one cat out at a time. In fact, the shelter director asked me more than once to recommend cats to be roommates. There are some bigger cages where up to three grown cats can live.

At one point Jack, who'd been a green dot cat, needed two companions. I suggested Huckleberry and Polly. Then I asked if they all needed to be the same gender. The director said they were neutered so it didn't matter.

The three of them got along famously.

On Christmas Eve, at the time I was bitten, I had four cats out. Two females, one juvenile male, and Godzilla, the male cat who bit me when I picked him up to return him to his cage. I'd had him out several times before and he was watchful and aloof but showed no signs of aggression.

The one other variable in the situation was that a customer had just entered the room, a hefty man, tall and broad. My intuition is that Godzilla had a bad experience prior to his shelter life with someone like that. I can't think of another good reason why he suddenly sunk his teeth deep into my hand.

The shelter director said the reason was that there were three other cats out in the room.

She said I had been told not to have more than one cat out at a time.

I could not even defend myself because of the tears.

The volunteer trainer said something about bites counting against them with regard to pay raises. I understood that to mean if they themselves were bitten, but maybe it meant if anyone was bitten.

I'm surprised that they didn't insist I have the bite attended to by a medical professional. They offered the option but I don't think they expected me to take them up on it.

But it was Christmas Eve and in the back of my mind there was a vague association between cat bites and nasty things like blood poisoning. I had no idea if my doctor was working that day, and anyway his office is across the city, at least 30 miles away. I only wanted a referral to someone local, but I found out the bite would be handled as a work-related injury and treatment would be handled as workman's comp.

I am more glad than I can express that I followed my instincts and went to the urgent care center where I was ultimately directed. I got a tetanus shot, Cipro and Tylenol with Codeine and I have no doubt I needed all of them. By that evening the bite was hot and painful.

By Christmas morning my hand was swollen, flushed and angry.

The urgent care center called to see how I was doing while I was taking a bath. I told Neil to tell them that I was OK.

But when my hand was still swollen and tender on Thursday, I called back and asked to have it rechecked. The urgent care center took it upon themselves to get authorization. They called back to tell me a recheck had been approved, but I missed the call because I was out shopping. In the meantime I'd made an appointment with a doctor in Neil's doctor's family practice.

I didn't go back to the urgent care center. My hand was on the mend but I figured that establishing a relationship with a local doctor only made good sense. I saw him the next day, Friday. He said the wound was healing nicely and didn't even laugh at me for coming in about it.

On Friday afternoon the shelter director called to see how I was doing. Her message was somewhere between genuine (or feigned) concern for me and a veiled caution that the shelter would give me another chance by allowing me to come back, as long as I followed rules.

I'm considering my options. Working with the cats has brought me so much joy. But I can't escape feeling the way I felt when I had a review at work and instead of hearing about all the good work I'd been doing I was censured for something that had no basis in fact or truth. In that case, when I sought to defend myself, I was told that I was in denial and that dismissing the criticism would only be to my detriment.

Nothing is more frustrating than an undeserved negative review where you aren't allowed to use truth as a defense.

Neil says the situations are not analogous. He says I should take the people out of the equation and remember why I am doing this work. That is probably sage advice, but I'm not there yet. I'm not making any definite decisions. I cancelled my volunteer shift for New Years Eve.

When the scabs fall off and the redness fades, I'll decide what to do.

I'm sure the scars will barely be perceptible in time.

Just like the scars from my aborted love affair with Marty. I got his very last note on September 17, 2002. I didn't reply to it.

Had I finally put the torch I had carried for so long to rest?

Almost. But not quite.

My determination not to write to him again wavered.

I muscled through it.
It seems if anything else is to happen between us, it will be because I make it so. He is going to hang back and let me do the work. And then, if things don't work out, he has no share in the blame, it will all have been my doing. How convenient for him.

Not long ago, I resolved that if anything were to happen again between us, it would only happen if he did the work and came to me. If it came about any other way, then I didn't want it. I'm still not sure I do.

But I find myself wavering from that resolve. I have the sense that if I push it, if I take the plunge and the risk, he will come back now. Not necessarily to stay of course. Maybe just for another brief interlude. But right now I sense he would come.

He doesn't know how to do it. Intimacy. He is good at the romance and infatuation and feelings of being "in love" but when the wash is dirty and the kids are rude, he is out of there. He may crave it, but he flat doesn't know how to handle it.

And why would I subject myself to the risk of heartache all over again? Why would I want to hike back up the damn mountain to the same damn precipice again? Who will catch me when I fall?
Of course, we already know that love and logic are irreconcilable. Well, most of the time.

My friend in Scotland, Claire, who was trying to stop fanning the cold embers of her own passion for the man who left her, asked me this. "Why do we put ourselves through this?"
A very good question. Someone suggested that I may be punishing myself for imagined past failings. For example, leaving my marriage. I felt and still feel a huge amount of guilt over that.
Claire also gently suggested that maybe, like her guy, Marty just wasn't interested enough.
It is so hard for me to accept that someone would just not be interested enough. No, that's not true, I meet people every day who aren't all that interested in me. The difference is, Marty was vitally interested for a while. And the difference is, that feeling that we belong together.

But every lovesick Sally probably feels that way. Who am I to think I am so special?

Marty left me. So if there is any coming back to do, he has to do it, not me. Marty pushed me away for the lovely but elusive Mary Mary quite contrary - and then put his ad back on the Internet. I made excuses for him, he was trying to go back to her but still looking for some companionship in the meantime while he looked for a job "closer to home." Their relationship was always rocky, he wasn't sure about his job situation, etc.

And then in the end, there was no Mary, no job loss, no relocation, and he still didn't choose to rejoin me. Well, maybe he felt it was futile. When he did ask me to call him I said, do you think what happened is surmountable? And he retreated.

I wanted him to fight for me.

Today there is a hint of fall in the air and it makes me ache. His note said so many warm things, but still he does not call or ask to see me.

I am fooling myself by thinking I am anything more than a passing amusement in his unisphere, by believing that he cares. I am clutching at the slimmest of straws, living in some fantasy world where people walk back in 14 months later and knock on doors.

Why do I do this to myself?
I was back where we'd begun.

In behavioral psychology there is something called an "extinction burst." The classic example is a bird that has been trained to peck a button and receive a bird seed reward. If the food reinforcement is stopped, the hungry bird will first try pecking the button just as it has in the past. When no food is forthcoming after repeated efforts, just before desisting, the bird will go through a period of frantic pecking. When this behavior yields no result, the bird will finally give up and stop pecking.

So it was that, after a last frenzy of hope, indecision and doubt, I became as wise as that bird. I'd been tapping, tapping, tapping on the door of Marty's indifference and, for a long, long time, no sustenance had been forthcoming.
Each time he has made contact, I think, now, this is it, this time he will ask to see me again. And I deliberate endlessly about whether I should take some initiative.

If he actually did come back, I would be endlessly watching for reassurance, endlessly fearing that he would leave again, endlessly scrutinizing every look and gesture for signs of loss. I'm not strong enough for that. Especially if I initiate the reunion.

Maybe if he does, if he shows some signs of knowing what he wants and putting himself out, I would give it a chance. But if I have to do it, it would be too fragile.

It would, in fact, be doomed.

So, there it is. I just found my answer.

Writing it out, I see it clearly. I must do nothing. I must wait. I must let it go.

Either he comes back on his own stream or we are at the end of the road.
And it was the end of the road. That road.

And it was OK.
I did nothing wrong. He did everything wrong. But I have to forgive both of us. I can't let it destroy the rest of my life.
There were other roads. I could see that now.

It was September 20, 2002. My baggage was packed. I was finally ready to go.

I knew a guy, I thought he was my first love
But he had to decide, between me and the one before
And she stacked it all up, like a house of cards
Said if he didn't come back, he'd find her flattened on the floor

And though I went and lived in my own hell
Thought that I could die as well
I let him go where he thought he had to go

But I never took heavy words for granted
And I never took the undeserved advantage
No, I never took the easy way
So why don't you take it a little easy on me now?

Out on the road, I had so many questions
I thought I would explode, just for some attention
Like an acolyte, I saw the flames of towering tapers
Almost proselytized, by those gleaming piles of paper

Yeah, I watched the power huddles
And their coats draped over puddles
And their trust me, baby, I'm the one you need

But I never took heavy words for granted
And I never took the undeserved advantage
No, I never took the easy way
So why don't you take it a little easy on me now?

Cause we don't want to be the ones
Who lie and cheat and slander
So we hold each other up to the higher standard
But I'll tell you what, I'll never try to make it hard
Cause when you're hard just to be hard
The only thing that's hard is you

So here's what I took, I kept the wine and laughter
Until every path just grew up and ever after
Yeah, through the peaks and twisty canyons
I met many great companions
Best of all is the one who loves me like you do

Cause I never took heavy words for granted
And I never took the undeserved advantage
No, I never took the easy way
So why don't you take it a little easy on me now?

Cause I never took heavy words for granted
And it's much too late to even want the shortcut
Yeah, I never took the easy way
So you can take it a little easy on me now
Cause we know that easy's never easy anyhow

(Dar Williams)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dances with cats

"A time to build up, a time to break down, a time to dance, a time to mourn."

I was reprimanded this week during my volunteer shift with the cats. I've had a few days to get over it and in retrospect it was no more than a gentle hand slap, but at the time I felt badly about it.

As a rule, I spend 95 percent of my time with the healthy cats in the cat room and in the lobby area. If I notice any sneezing or watery eyes, I don't let that cat play with the others and I alert the staff. Respiratory infections easily get out of control in a shelter.

For the past few weeks sick cats have been kept in the back hallway. Before I leave for the day, I've been visiting them. I already know most of them because they were in the cat room before getting sick.

Even though they are sick, some of them still desperately want affection. I've taken them out and held them, in turns, using antibacterial gel in between cats. I never go back to the healthy cat area after I handle sick cats.

But the vet tech told me not to touch them again. She said even if I gel my hands, germs may remain on my scrubs. In a better-safe-than-sorry way, it makes sense not to handle them. On the other hand, they are caged in the same small area and are most likely infected with the same germs already.

But of course I said I wouldn't touch them again. The vet tech also said they were moving the sick bay to an outbuilding (where it had been until recently). So the reproof was essentially gratuitous. If the sick cats aren't in the main building, I won't even have access to touch them again.

Not that I would, having been told not to. I'm not careless. When I get home from the shelter, I change clothes and lather my arms to the elbows before handling Loki and Zamboni. I even have dedicated shoes for working at the shelter.

On a brighter note, Bella was adopted, Bella who has lived at the shelter for more than a year. Bella did not have much going for her. She was a nice enough cat but not friendly to other cats or particularly fond of people. She was overweight with an unfortunately small head and short tail, and her tabby markings were unexceptional.

When I saw she wasn't there I asked one of the staff members, who told me she was adopted. Good. But my comment was, I'd love to know how that went down. We have some really sweet and pretty cats, but someone had chosen unprepossessing Bella.

The staff member told me that a lady had come in and asked, which cat has been here the longest? She took Bella and had already reported back that after a few days Bella was coming out of her shell, making herself at home and even losing some weight, now that she wasn't confined to a cage for most of her day, every day.

I told Neil about it. He said, I love that story. And it is a very sweet story.

We still have Kelsey, who heads for this chair the minute I let her out of her cage. If I sit in the chair, she will sit in the chair with me, either behind me or on my lap if I let her. I'd say she is our most affectionate, people-loving cat. She's pretty too.

Here are Noelle and Ally. Noelle is sweet, pretty, friendly and cool with the other cats. I'm sure we won't have her long. Ally is a big lazy lug. She usually shows no interest in coming out of her cage. When she does, she finds a spot somewhere and parks herself. She doesn't like other cats very much and I haven't really warmed up to her, but I keep trying.

Ariel and Jules are next. Ariel is a playful young tortoiseshell and I'm surprised we still have her. She loves other cats. Jules is a chubby little girls who is fearless with other cats and very playful. I'm working with her on getting more comfortable with being handled by people. I'm surprised we still have her too, but black cats have a harder time finding families.

This is Huckleberry. He's a very nice cat, a dilute gray tabby with beautiful green eyes, sociable, easy-going, lovable.

And this little darling is Coal. If he's still there on Christmas Eve, I'll be shocked, although he is black. He's just a kitten and he purrs like a nut.

I'm volunteering on Christmas Eve and on New Years Eve. It would be nice to have lots of adoptions this week, ideally by a families who gave sufficient thought to getting a cat as a holiday gift.

There are lots more cats to choose from. We have a huge gray boy with a fluffy tail named Godzilla. Jack, our one-eyed boy, still waits to be chosen. Several young tabbies who I have a hard time telling apart. A little Russian Blue kitten named Nikki. An Abyssinian mix named Pixie, who is not quite comfortable with other cats yet, but she's young and I'm working with her. Also a hodge-podge of black and white and gray and white kittens.

And a gorgeous male, Hugo, who is white with gray patches and odd eyes. I love him. I love white odd-eyed cats and I would adopt another one if it was the right cat at the right time.

This isn't the right time and probably not the right cat. Loki and Zamboni would have a hard time with a full-grown adult male, sweet as this one is.

Two cats feel like the right number to me right now. I can't make any promises that that won't change one day.

To everything there is a season.

I've come to the final chapters of my relationship with Marty in 2001 and 2002.

When he didn't follow up after we'd met for coffee, I'd declared that I was ready to let it go and move on.

I truly was ready and I wish I could say it was a linear process.
I have not wavered from my resolution to let go of the relationship. I'm still convinced letting go is the right decision, but I'm disappointed to have felt no relief or sense of lightness from having set a burden down.

My malaise now is more lassitude and a sense of purposelessness than grief and heartache. Perhaps as long as I was grieving I was also nursing hope - so now, in letting go, I have to deal with a sense of hopelessness.
On his birthday, August 8 (the same birth date as my daughter), I considered sending him a note. But the time comes when one must close the books. So I didn't.

In late August I got a note from Marty that he'd gotten DSL and had a new personal email address. He said he was sending the information to his "list of most important people in the world."

I almost just deleted it, but a few days later I wrote back with a noncommittal two-liner.
Welcome to the world of high-speed internet. I've been a "cable gal" myself for some time now.

Take care.

The day I sent it, he wrote me a long reply, all about his new job, James Taylor, his son, him, him, him.

He signed it thus.
Thanks again for the note, Liz.... and it was nice to see you again....

I wrote to Claire.
I'm baffled that he seems to want to maintain a connection, wants me to know how to reach him and what is happening in his world.

I'm torn about how or if to respond - with a nice note in kind, with a plea to come back or to make a clean break, with silence. I toy with the idea of putting it out there, in cold hard black and white. "It was nice seeing you again too, even though I feel like there are things between us that have been left unsaid and unfinished."

Silence so far has won out.

I truly don't want to think about him any more. I have wasted enough brain cells on him. I'm tired. I just want to have some love and joy in my life again.
I continued to hold my peace. It should have been easy but it wasn't.
I do have random thoughts of e-mailing something outrageous to him - something like, "want to run away to Figi with me?" - but I'm fighting to be still.

Each day makes it easier, or at least makes it more awkward to respond to his most recent message without it appearing that I brooded over it for a long time.

Maybe I won't hear from him again. Maybe I will.
I continued to correspond with Claire in Scotland, Claire who had parallel issues, a man she'd loved and couldn't quite let go of, although he continued to treat her cavalierly and let her down. We had so much in common, we were so alike.

She wrote this to me.
I am giving myself a hard time over everything. I would like to go away and sit in a rocking chair and read a book and not be responsible for anything. The problem is I always keep going, I never give up, I am never so bad that I cannot keep everything together on the outside.

I wonder when I will sort my head out and stop feeling anxious. Things are okay but not okay. Perhaps I am standing at a precipice and need to jump. But I don't want to jump. I want to sit down and eat my lunch and admire the view, then wend my way down a pleasant path in the warm sunshine, stopping when I feel tired, smelling the flowers and listening to the birds.
I got it. I wrote back.
I know the feeling of being on the precipice. I have loitered there myself and still do at times. I have yet to purge Marty's letters. I still look at the photographs.

Many times I have tried to jump, wondering if I'd fall or if I'd fly. Unfortunately, I seem to keep hiking my way back up that mountain to that same precipice so I can do it all over again.

I also know the feeling of being OK and Not OK. It is a horrible, stagnant quagmire of a feeling. So I amble on, walking up and down that path that leads to the precipice, trying to smell the flowers and listen to the birds and thinking, this really isn't THAT bad.

Like you, I judge myself harshly and feel like I am falling short of some arbitrary standard of perfection I set.
But this time I had jumped and I was sticking the landing. My life was continuing. I was putting Marty behind me.

Progress can be measured in tiny increments - and it is still progress.

In September I got another note from Marty, about, well, nothing important really. We'd been having some stormy weather. He closed with this.
Hope you've stayed high and dry this weekend.... Take care!

I consulted Claire.
I heard from Marty again. He wrote yesterday, on a very slim pretext, to tell me the son of a musician we both like will be on a national radio show this week. Seems to me like a trumped-up excuse to get back in touch, don't you think? But why? Does he need reassurance that I am still here, still thinking about him?

I have achieved more detachment of late than I ever had before. Why now? And what is the right thing to do? Continue to ignore him? Ask him what he is about?
In the end, a couple of days later, I sent another noncommittal reply.
Thanks for the info. I wish I could say I stayed high and dry this weekend, but I got rather damp and wind-blown Saturday night watching the traditional Jersey Village football rout by Katy High School.
Just hours later, Marty send me another enthusiastic - and meaningless - message.

I wrote to Claire.
Now what? If meeting me for coffee sparked his imagination, why did he wait a month and a half to let me know? The pain was sharp in the days after the meeting, when he didn't call or write. So why now? I don't get it - but with Marty nothing makes much sense.

I can't see becoming his pen pal. If he wants a relationship, a friendship or whatever, he has to belly up to the bar. He needs to pick up the phone and call and ask me on a date. Because I'm not going to suggest coffee again.

At least expecting nothing when it comes to Marty has become second nature.
A week passed. Again I spilled my guts to Claire.
I haven't heard from Marty again. Still, I have thought about him a lot this week and I realize I still have feelings for him, whether he cares about me or not.

I want to scream - call me, ask me out, kiss me, love me. But I am unable to break out of my self-imprisonment and silence and pride.

I read between the lines of his letters that he is trying to communicate something to me but I can't find the words to unlock the barriers. I want to send him another note, a poem, touch his heart somehow, but I am so afraid of screwing up.

On the other hand, if he wants to reach me, he knows how to. The minute I take the initiative into my hands, I risk rejection and more heartache. I could easily say, Marty come back, or leave me alone. But what if he left me alone?

Part of me thinks that maybe that is the way to win him over again. Be assertive. Seduce him. Knock on his door. Ask him to go to the zoo with me. Stop waiting for him to show up with roses and repentance. Take the bull by the horns.

But I'm not sure. And unless I do it perfectly, I don't think I can pull it off. So I do nothing except obsess and fantasize. It seems a bit teenage, doesn't it?

I tell myself over and over, we are just two little people in the world, me and Marty, two insignificant ants, nothing special. Everybody hurts, everyone suffers unreciprocated love at some time.

Why has this taken on such cataclysmic proportions? Why do I feel like it is bigger than anything else that has ever happened to anyone else? Why can't I put it behind me? It is nothing in the greater scheme, nothing but a tawdry little tragicomedy which ended many months ago.
As I said, letting go, moving on, isn't linear.

I sent Marty one more note, in reply to his last. It didn't say much, answered a question he'd asked. And this.
Since I know you appreciate beauty, I'm attaching a poem I came across this morning. It's called "The Dance." Something to think about.

There is a line in the poem that says, "let us risk remembering that we never stop silently loving those we once loved out loud."

It was the closest I could come to telling him that I still loved him.

The next day, September 17, 2002, he wrote back.
Hi there!

You always give me food for thought, Liz!! I'm thinking.... I'm thinking, I'm thinking!!!

The poem is beautiful.... I'll sleep on that.

Thanks for remembering me!

I wanted to write back, "don't think too hard. It means what you think it means." But I didn't.

It was the last note I ever got from him.

I never wrote to him again.

"To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late."

(Pete Seeger)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The hour of lead

"Well I don't know if I can open up and let you in, here come those tears, here come those tears again."

Last February I wrote a post about Claire Bidwell Smith and her memoir, The Rules of Inheritance. I had checked it out of the library and read it in two days, riveted both by her prose and by her story.

Both of Claire's parents were diagnosed with cancer when Claire was 14. She ws just 18 when she lost her mom to colon cancer. Her father was successfully treated for prostate cancer but later had a recurrence and died when Claire was 25. In her memoir Claire wrote about her the ways she coped (and didn't cope), her years of feeling sad and adrift in the world, and in the end, her healing. "There's another side to grief and I'm on it," she wrote. At that time she was 32 years old, a hospice counselor, a wife and a mother.

Claire started a blog called Life in LA in 2003 after moving to California to care for her dying father. When he died, she put her blog on hold for a while, then resumed writing it in 2006. The original posts are lost in cyberspace but after I finished her book, I went back to August 2006, Claire's earliest posts that are still online, and read her blog all the way through to the present. I was fascinated and moved by her life story and by the way she expressed herself. Her words echoed some of the words I wrote in 2001 and 2002, when I was mending from my own grief.

I wrote a letter to Claire, a long convoluted one, sharing some of my words with her. Somehow I wanted her to know that I absolutely lived at least some of what she had felt and written about. I almost didn't send it, but the same day I wrote it she posted this on her blog.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve received more messages from readers than ever before. All of them about loss, about grief, many of them about being motherless, and also about being mothers. The messages have pulled me open in this hard, beautiful way. Each story, each life in words sitting there in my inbox, is something so unique and painful and perfect. And it’s not that I don’t think about loss all the time, or parental loss all the time, because I do, I do, but with every story shared I see a new depth to it all.
After reading that post, I did send my letter. Claire wrote back to me a couple of weeks later.

I kept waiting for some magical time that would allow me to respond at length, but I am just so overwhelmed with my plate that that time still hasn't arrived. Please know that I read this and appreciated every word, especially your story.

With love,
Last week Amazon gave me a coupon toward a book and I bought Claire's book and re-read it. It was as compelling as it had been the first time and I read it just as quickly, although maybe with fewer tears.

The problem with publishing your memoir when you are 32 years old is that time moves forward, things change, and your story goes on, often in unforeseen ways. Part of Claire's beautiful story was about how, after years of self-destructive behaviors and dysfunctional relationships, she fell in love and married and had two daughters with her husband. In her book, she spoke of her wedding day as the happiest day of her life.

In a perfect world, the happy ending to her story would have been for ever after.

Claire hasn't blogged much in 2013. She posts photos on Instagram and you'd have to be quite dull not to notice that since late spring or early summer they are of herself and her children and her friends. Her husband isn't pictured or mentioned.

She has made some enigmatic comments on her blog and on Instagram. In September she posted a selfie on Instagram with this comment.
Self-portrait Saturday. I'm still mulling over this idea of having to give up hope in order to be present to what is. I get it. I do. But I don't want to give up hope. It's what makes me human, compassionate. Hope is both why my life is so hard, and so beautiful.
And on her blog, Claire posted this.
I’m struggling in my life right now, for a thousand reasons I can’t get into here just yet.

In order to get through this period I’ve been doing all the things I always do. I’ve been spending time with friends, drinking wine and laughing. I’ve been immersing myself in motherhood and all the wonders and fierce trials that come with it.

But at the end of the night when I’m alone again with my thoughts, I feel that old, familiar tug. That there is something more to all this.

And that I have to find it.
When I did a web search for Claire Bidwell Smith, Google considerately tried to auto-complete my query with "affair" and "divorce."

The search results were primarily speculation on other blogs about Claire having a fling with another grief-memoir writer and blogger. Whether or not the conjecture is rumor or truth, there is no doubt that she and her husband are not together. Instagram doesn't lie.

I'm not sure why that makes me sad.

Partly I miss her blogging. I can understand that you really can't continue to blog and be authentic unless or until you are ready to confront and publicly share the truth. I don't mean going into the reasons. Just the facts.

Perhaps because her book is slated to be made into a movie, she doesn't want to dash the happy ending that her story promises.

Mostly though, I feel disappointed, not so much by Claire as for her. I don't know what happened, who left whom, what went on behind closed doors, outside the spotlight. I do know that marriage can be impossibly hard and babies can put unimaginable pressure on all the weak spots. I point no fingers.

I did go back and look up something that I recalled her posting about, something vaguely pivotal at least in my memory. It took me a while to find it, scanning through more than seven years of posts. Sometimes Claire posts letters, some written to her mom or her dad, some to her children. I found what I was looking for in a letter written in June 2012, to her not-yet-born baby. (Her second daughter was born two days later.)

Here it is in part.
There are lots of things you’ll come to know about me, baby, but one of them is that for a long time after my parents died I felt really misunderstood. I just felt like I had been through this huge, terrible experience that most people couldn't relate to. This caused me to resent the people around me and that feeling was an awful burden to bear. For a long time the only way I could cope was by surrounding myself with other people who were just as damaged as I was. That was the only way I felt understood - by being around other people who knew pain as well as I did.

It was when I finally got over that part of my life that I met your father. He was the first person I really loved who wasn't damaged. Part of me being able to love him had to do with me having worked really hard to get past all of my resentment and pain, but part of it was also due to your dad being such a true listener. I knew he could never truly comprehend the things I’d been through, but you know what, baby? That didn't matter because he really listened to me and listened to my stories and he looked in my eyes, and he didn't just nod his head like some people do. Instead, I could tell he was searching inside of himself for ways to understand me and let me love him, and it was the most overwhelmingly lovely gesture anyone had made to me in years and years.
Love like that takes my breath away. And I totally understood what she was saying. Because Neil was the first person I really loved who wasn't damaged.

If I ran the world, love like that would always be honored. As long as you both shall live.

Claire will find her way. I sincerely hope that for her.

I am getting close to the end of my story of the last unhealthy man I loved. There is one more chapter, maybe two, and an epilogue left I think.

In July 2002, after a month of silence, I got an email from Marty. The subject line was "How I'm Spending My REAL Summer Vacation."
Hi Liz.... This is part of a note I wrote for my family about a little vacation adventure I’m having starting Friday, when I fly up to Detroit to meet my old crew. I wanted to share this part of it with some special friends, just as a fun thing.

I hope you’re continuing to be happy and well! I came across some photos from a year ago – you’re so pretty and your smile is so radiant.

My love and peaceful wishes to you and the girls….

In the attached story - a mere 1,945 words - he writes about his upcoming participation in the annual Mackinac Island sailing race. I soaked up every word. But more than that, I savored the indication that he was thinking about me.

I wrote to my friend in Scotland, a different Claire.
Well, having finally determined to let it go for good, this morning I have a letter from Marty.

He is thinking about me. He says nothing about seeing me again, though.

As soon as I saw his name in my inbox I started shaking.

I don't want to play this cat and mouse game. I want to write back and just ask him to meet me for coffee. But if I am shaking because I have a letter, how am I going to pull off a meeting and not reveal the effect he still has on me?

I guess I just have to do it.
Without over-thinking it - and to avoid (wisely?) talking myself out of it - I fired off this note to Marty.
Sounds like a blast.

Meet me for coffee when you return? Safe, neutral territory ... Starbucks at Willowbrook ...?

Here's to smooth sailing!

(Early on Marty had suggested meeting in "safe, neutral territory" and I'd suggested that Starbucks.)

I got an almost immediate answer, complete with double exclamation points.
Sounds familiar as well as safe and neutral, so that's a deal!!
Again, I wrote to Claire.
He wants to meet me when he returns from the sailing trip. He sounds pleased. I am petrified and exultant both at once.

And in a way, it's once again up to him. He must now call or write when he returns, or it won't happen.

Omigosh, what have I done?!

Marty brought out something wonderful in me, something bright and beautiful and precious. So in a way, it hurt the more, because he rejected the very best I had to offer. I'm not sure if I am able to forgive him for that.

At least I have a week to sort my feelings out.

In a way now, I feel good that I took the assertive position. We could have danced around this possibility indefinitely, exchanging holiday and anniversary greetings and keeping the connection alive.

This, I hope, will resolve it. We will have closure, or a new beginning, but we won't have the same relationship we had last summer, that's for sure.

I am going to try not to become attached to any specific outcome, but having expectations is a hard habit to break.
I did a lot of thinking and writing that week.
He won't be back until the end of next week, and I'm not going to hold my breath for an immediate call. He did seem enthusiastic about meeting me for coffee, but I don't suppose he has given it one-tenth as much thought since as I have.

After the initial lurch of excitement, I have calmed down quite a bit about it. If it happens fine, if not, oh well, I tried.

Of course there is the small fantasy that he will want to see me again and I will be able to put the past pain aside and find the man I once cared about.
I watched the sailing race progress on the web site. His boat came in 7th out of 16 in its class and 96th overall out of 250 or so.

The day he was due back found me writing this to Claire.
I have heard nothing further from him. I think he may be back in town today, perhaps with a lot of catching up to do at work. I think it's unlikely that he would contact me right away, he would not want to seem too eager, that is not his style at all.

In fact, a week from now, I may well be lamenting the fact that he still has not made contact and stressing over whether I must dangle another carrot.

My fantasy, of course, was that he was so happy that we will be meeting again, and that in the long night shifts on board the sailboat he was warmed by the anticipation of once again being in my company.

Hey - it's my fantasy, and I can have it any way I want it.

In reality he was probably flirting with scantily-clad female sailing enthusiasts in a mellow, rum-soaked, celebratory atmosphere.
Two days later Marty wrote.
Hi, Liz!

I’m back, and it was great! When do you think you’d like to meet?


I waited a day to reply. On Saturday I sent him this note.
Welcome back sailor!

I could get together for a little while tonight if you're free. Otherwise some night later this week, or next weekend.

Glad the trip was great.

I debriefed with Claire.
Marty wrote that he is back, that the trip was great, and when would I like to meet. Thunk, thunk, thunk goes my heart.

I debated being too busy to see him right away. But I want to see him, I don't want to play games. Also, I will be nervous until we do see each other, so for that reason alone I would be happy to have it behind me.

Of course, if he doesn't want to see me after that, I will have to deal with it and move on once again.
On Sunday Marty called me. We made a plan. On the day that we were to meet I wrote to Claire.
Hey Claire,

Marty called about 4 p.m. on Sunday. We arranged to meet tonight (Tuesday) for coffee.

I felt more relaxed on the call than he sounded. He couldn't meet me Sunday night because he was going to his brother's. I imagine he goes there quite often and it was just his way of not appearing too eager.

Well, it has been almost a year, what's a few more days right?

The funny thing is, I see right through him (I think). I sense he really wants to see me, but has to make it on his terms. Luckily I don't care. I don't feel like playing games. I want to see him, I'm not ashamed if he knows that.

I couldn't get to sleep last night. Yes, I am definitely pumped up. But I am just going to go and try to recapture a momentary sense of the happiness we felt last summer. I have wanted one more evening with him, one more chance to smile at him. The rest fate will have to determine.

I know the odds against rejoining Marty in a lasting relationship are astronomical. But cappuccino and a nice chat are not out of reach.

Whatever it was that I thought I wanted (hoped, dreamed) from the meeting just didn't happen.
Hi Claire,

I'm having a very hard time this morning. I saw Marty last night. It went OK, not great. We met, talked, hugged and said good night. He didn't ask to see me again. He didn't write me a note this morning.

I am still in love with him.

He did say something about keeping in touch when we parted, but that could just have been common politeness. I guess it is possible that he will call me again in a few days, but wants to take things more slowly this time.

I ache today. I won't fall back down the rabbit hole, I will be OK, I am much stronger in myself now that I was before. But I love this man and I don't sense that he loves me.

So it goes. Life goes on. Time will again work it's mercies. The ache will grow dull again, day by day. I'm not sorry that I saw him again.

My hope is that he will come to me yet. I will give him some time.

Other than telling him that I love him, there does not seem to be much else I can hold out.

A few days later I wrote to Claire again.
Oh Claire,

I'm not doing very well. Although I don't regret the meeting with Marty, I feel like I have taken some big steps backward. I have not heard anything more from him, not even the politeness of a short note saying that I looked great and it was nice to see me. My heart aches.

As much as I know in my head that this is about him and not me, it has kicked up the feelings of aloneness and sadness and emptiness. I know I have to fix that from inside and not through another person - but tell that to my heart and brain when I dream about him and wake with panic waves.

It is such a bitter pill. He seemed so glad when I suggested coffee and then he took the initiative to get in touch as soon as he got back from the trip. Yet from the moment I walked in the door, I felt like I didn't have his full attention.

I watched him consume a latte, a large slab of cake and a mocha frappuccino, while I sipped a low-fat cappuccino and a glass of ice water. I watched a tall man fidgeting in his chair, telling me a lot about his kids, his job, his hobbies and his extended family, and asking me very little about what has been going on in my world.

I have spent a year healing from the hurt precipitated by this man leaving me last summer. I have felt so much stronger and happier and healthier.

How did he not see it? How did he not feel enchanted again? After our first meeting, one year and two months ago, he told me he was "entranced." What happened? Where does such love go?

How did I get back into this dark place? I just wanted to see him again. No, that isn't true, I wanted the fairy tale. And he seemed so happy when I asked him to meet me, a happily-ever-after ending seemed a possibility.

And for a few fleeting minutes I recaptured some of the joy I felt in his presence last summer. And then it was time to go home. And he hugged me and mumbled something meaningless about keeping in touch and we said good night. And I drove away in my little blue car with the dream-catcher hanging on the rear-view mirror.

And now the silence is screaming.

He is here, he is footloose, I am here - and he isn't wanting or asking to be with me. I love this man and I want to touch him and sleep with him and make love with him and he doesn't see my beauty and my shining light.

Why would I want somebody who doesn't want to be with me? What is wrong with me?

I can't regret the meeting. It lets me know all these feelings were still here inside me, bottled up and simmering.

I know I don't have to stop loving him to let him go. Letting go is the ultimate act of love. I will deal.

A week later I wrote again. To Claire.
I have to accept, one more time, that Marty does not want me.

He did the pull-and-push thing, writing to me after a silence, agreeing enthusiastically to meet me for coffee, contacting me promptly on his return from the sailing trip and calling to set up the meeting - and then not even giving me his full attention. He used the food and drink, as well as the fidgeting in his chair, to distract himself and avoid feeling any intimacy.

I wrote a letter that I want to send Marty - one where I speak from my heart, not the false, stiff-upper-lip, "I am doing just fine" facade I have presented all this past year whenever we have had contact.

But then I'm not sure the cost to my pride is worth it. What I really want is for him to come to me. And I can't will him to do that.

So I guess the choice I do have is to work on becoming free. No man is worth this, no relationship is worth this, more than a full year later.

And the funny thing is, I have a feeling I will hear from him again, just as soon as I truly let go of it, just like last time. But that itself keeps me hooked, thinking if I can hold out long enough, he will bend again.

In fact, I can easily imagine that Marty will come to me one day when it is too late.

Ultimately, sanity prevailed. Finally.
I've decided not to write to Marty again. To hell with him. He has consumed a year of my life. I'm ready to let it go and move on.

He is not the man I love - that man exists only in my fantasy. Marty just happened to fit - and look very handsome in - the suit of clothing I wove, but that is all he is, a fiction, a figment of my imagination.

You know, I had talked myself into thinking he initiated and did the pull-push thing, but it was really me.

I am the one who wrote to him in March, after which he told me he had been thinking about me and asked me to call - then acted like it was nothing important when I did call. Then after another silence, I wrote to him in June on the anniversary of our first meeting and again, he took the bait by responding.

When he sent the sailing story, I jumped on it as an excuse to suggest meeting for coffee. And I read way too much into his ready agreement to meet me and into his contacting me so quickly on his return, imagining he was as exuberant about the idea of being with me again as I was.

No more.

I have done my best. I cared about him, and I held on to the hope that some of his professed feelings for me really were real and would resurface with time if his other baggage got cleared away (Mary, the job, time, dating other women who could not possibly hold a candle to me).

That time has come and gone. I will not be waiting any longer for him to come to his senses. I think, I hope, I believe I really mean it this time. Enough is enough.

It really does feel good to have reached this point. I am ready to move forward and not look back again.
It was July 31, 2002. One year from the day Marty broke things off. One day before the first anniversary of Marty's savage reaction to my chat with Robin, the day he told me to "have a nice life."

I've now almost come to the end of our story. Almost.

"Here come those tears again
Just when I was getting over you
Just when I was gonna make it through
Another night without missing you
Thinking I might just be strong enough after all
When I hear your footsteps echoing in the hall

Baby here we stand again
Where we've been so many times before
Even though you looked so sure
As I was watching you walking out my door
But you always walk back in like you did today
Acting like you never even went away

Well I don't know if I can
Open up and let you in
Here come those tears
Here come those tears again

I can hear you telling me
How you needed to be free
And you had some things to work out alone
Now you're standing here telling me
How you have grown

Here come those tears again
Now you'll tell me how to hold them in
Here come those tears
Here come those tears again."

(Jackson Browne)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Collector's jeans

"Life's full of flaws, who knows the cause, living in the memory of a love that never was."

I'm a stockpiler. You may not know that about me.

Oh, not canned foods, bottled water, guns or greenbacks under the mattress.

I stockpile clothing. I have a small obsession with socks and undergarments. Shirts and sweaters and jeans and shoes. Nightgowns. Hand soap. Makeup, and I seldom wear makeup. Purses. Watches.

Yes, that is a bin full of socks.

It hasn't quite reached hoarding proportions, but it has reached a certain level of ridiculousness. I like what I like and I can't remember what I've got. Which explains why I have three almost identical lilac colored shirts hanging in my closet. Unworn.

I've been thinking about the difference between stockpiling and hoarding, and it comes down to this. Beyond the fact that my house isn't bursting at the seams with broken toasters and empty grocery bags and mountains of miscellany, I don't mind getting rid of things. It gives me satisfaction to fill a bag for Purple Heart, to toss out expired cans, jars, boxes, spices that have lost their spice, and all manner of useless things.

But I can't seem to go to Target without looking at underwear and buying it if I like it and it's my size. I check out socks on every trip to Ross or TJ Maxx, even if I went there for towels or baby gifts. I take my daughter to Famous Footwear to buy shoes. She finds nothing she likes, I leave with two more pairs.

It's a silly habit, stockpiling, because I forget what I have and by the time I find it, it's either totally out of fashion, doesn't fit or my tastes have changed. Sometimes all of the above. And then there's the ubiquitous "what was I thinking?!" as I hold up shorts that are too short, bright yellow T-shirts with wild red butterfly appliques, or some other inappropriate monstrosity. Some things go straight into the Purple Heart bag with the tags still on.

I like to say I don't have an addictive personality. I haven't smoked a cigarette since I was 23 and I quit drinking when I turned 40. My vices are sugar and caffeine ... and I could give up sugar. Drugs have never tempted me. And if any of my college friends are reading, I didn't inhale. Really.

What I might have is an obsessive personality and a thing about things. I collect stuff. But unlike Neil who sensibly collects things that are akin to investments and go up in value, I collect whatever I fancy at any given time. I still have more than 100 beanie babies, complete with tag protectors. When I bought them, I knew full well they'd never be worth anything, but the thrill of the chase sucked me in every time.

Years ago, my mom found a ceramic frog wearing a red bikini and displayed it on a shelf. "I like a little kitch," she said. That was the genesis of my first collection, miniature animals. They had to be small enough to fit in a printer's tray section. Eventually I had lots (and lots) of different small animals, that I lovingly dusted with a soft paintbrush. Then I went through a frog phase and a cat phase.

All of these cherished collectibles are carefully packed in plastic bins, wrapped in tissue, and have been so since I moved out of my house in Jersey Village in 2007. I never unpacked them when I moved to Sugar Land. I just started new collections. Royal Worcester spill vases. Halcyon Days boxes. Any china teacup or pitcher or sugar bowl with a Chelsea Garden pattern. And there are many. A big eBay score on a complete tea set in a Lady Claire pattern.

Glass vases. Enamel bowls. Picture frames. A gallimaufry of random knickknacks. My favorite part of any visit to a zoo or museum was a stop in the gift shop. Art objects. Stuff. Just. Stuff.

It overwhelms me now. Much of it is stored away in boxes in closets. I used to think that when I retired I'd spend my first few years selling things on eBay. It's just hard to know where to begin.

And then there is my glass, my most excessive stockpile. I don't ever want to run out of my favorite colors, and I have so many favorite colors. When I started lampworking in 2008, I bought glass by the quarter pound, sometimes even by the rod. Now I rarely buy less than a half pound and more often full pounds and multiples of full pounds. I've bought as much as 10 pounds of staples like black, white and clear.

My glass takes up more than three large shelving units in my garage studio. There are colors I have that are no longer available and I use these sparingly or not at all. I'm not sure why. The world wouldn't end if I used up a color, and there are always new colors to fall in love with. Maybe I'm waiting until I think I'm good enough, until I'm confident that I can make a bead worthy of using this or that beautiful scarce color.

I collect lampwork beads too, beads made by other artists, and these I truly enjoy owning. But I also have boxes and boxes of beads from exchanges, beads made in the classes I've taken, beads I've been given, and beads I bought before I knew enough about bead making to be discriminating.

I've also acquired quite a collection of commercially made beads, gemstone and crystal and, naturally, glass. I always think I'll make jewelry with them, but I seldom do and when I do, I just have more jewelry to maintain and care for. And speaking of jewelry, I have accumulated so many (many) pairs of earrings and necklaces and pendants and bracelets and rings. And just like makeup, I don't wear much jewelry these days.

I'm not sure where I came by my compulsion to acquire things. My parents rarely bought anything they didn't really need. Despite their austerity, when my father died three years ago and my mom moved into assisted living, my brother and I were utterly phased by the task of emptying their tidy two bedroom condo. In the end, we paid a crew to come in and carry away everything besides the few mementos we wanted badly enough to pack up and ship to Texas and New Jersey.

I want to get a handle on it, I really do. I want to weed out the collectibles that haven't seen daylight in years and the jewelry I no longer wear. I want to clear out some of the clutter. Most of all I want to be more disciplined about buying things I don't need.

But please don't think I'm ever going to stop buying socks. There are some things you just don't want to run out of.

Color me obsessed. That trait hasn't changed radically over the last decade. Still, better to be obsessed with socks than with a man who didn't love me.

As the one-year anniversary of my first date with Marty loomed, in June 2002, I succumbed once more to my inability to move on. Conflicted thoughts of provoking a meeting, of seeing him again, tormented me.

I wondered if I had been too discouraging when he asked me to call him in April. And then I'd let his last note go unanswered.

But I also thought, for someone who pushed me over and hurt me so much, he didn't try very hard at all to convince me he had been thinking about us or wanted to see me again. Maybe he realized there'd be explaining to do and he just wasn't interested in the work.
I am not able to love Marty right now, because the hurt was so huge and the anger so great, but I am sure I did once love him.

I know even if I could see him casually, the anger and hurt would eventually surface and have to be addressed. We couldn't just pretend we were starting with a fresh slate, well we could pretend but it wouldn't work if the relationship were to last. But much more likely I would just get hurt again, and what do I need that for?

Still, part of me needs to know what happens to him, if he loses his job or transfers to California or goes back to New York. I think I have to ask the question.

Why do I give a damn anyway? He isn't who I thought he was, why can't I get that through my head? Is it a competitiveness of sorts, do I want to win him back, just so I can win?
I wrote to my new friend Claire.
The more I think about it, the more I think he might be willing to see me again (for coffee at least) and the more I am not sure I want to waste the time and energy. If he were to reach out to me that would be different, but to be the one in the asking position seems to take more out of me.

I'm almost past caring, although part of me still wants to see him again, just to look in his eyes one more time and try to read what drives this man who caused me so much sorrow by facilely telling me he loved me and wanted to be with me forever and then casting me aside so heartlessly and totally.

None of it made sense. It still doesn't.

I have sat here today and written him a note asking to meet for coffee. Maybe he will agree to meet me for coffee and I will see him and feel nothing. I truly no longer believe he is a way to happiness for me.

I haven't resolved to send it, as I sit here, and yet I think, it's such a small thing, meeting for coffee, such a human thing.
On Monday June 10, I did send Marty a note, but I only asked for an update, not a meeting.

The media hype around the one-year anniversary of Allison this weekend reminded me, willy nilly, of our first meeting. It's hard to believe it's been a year.

Is there anything new with the merger and your job?

All else is well with us.

I wrote to Claire.
So I will see what he does with that, and try to have no expectations or agenda for the future. I am tired of the feelings and the thinking and wish only for some peace.
But as days passed without a reply, I felt agitated.
Why would someone who once professed to love me forever refuse to communicate with me in the spirit of friendship?

But we already know he is not a healthy person, nor a man of character and integrity.

So why does it still come as a shock and an ache?

My fantasy has been that he is secretly pining, having come to the inescapable conclusion that he will never again find anyone as good as I am, but hopeless of winning my heart again. Obviously, that is not the case.

I can no longer hold on to the belief that he is wounded but basically good beneath. He truly has a dearth of compassion and humanity, or he would write a polite answer to a polite inquiry.
With cosmic ironic timing, Mark had resurfaced with a new deluge of sad messages, via e-mail and postcards.
I have ignored his correspondence, but I think that is just fanning the flames of his obsession. So today I will try to find the right words to set it to rest.
On Friday Marty finally replied to my note. This is the pertinent excerpt.
Hi, Liz.... Thanks so much for your note! I’m glad you’re well.

No job loss, no relocation. Perhaps more travel. And more money??? Well, a boy can dream, can’t he?

I had the same memories prompted by the Allison chatter, and smiled when I thought about the two of us trying to find each other through cell phone networks that were half disabled! It is hard to believe it’s been a year.

Anyway, the memories are warm and pleasant, Liz, and thanks for your note. It’s nice to hear from you.

I wrote to Claire.
I received a message from Marty this morning.

Damn. And I was almost grateful for the silence, which would have permanently cut the cord.

The tone of the letter is friendly. But no mention of wanting to see me.

So now, I have to consider whether I want to take it forward by suggesting a meeting, or just continuing the correspondence.

I'm not sure what I will do.
I let a week pass. Then I wrote a short open-ended note, matching his tone.
Hi Marty,

Thanks for the update. I'm glad things have worked out so well for you.

Yes, that was a funny night last year, when we drove in circles for an hour and finally hooked up, against all odds.

And then you went home and wrote me that sweet note. Yes, there are some good memories.

Marty, you sound well, better than last year, when you were so homesick and blue. I hope that is true.

Thanks for being in touch.

In the meantime, Mark had gotten out of control.
I had more troubles with Mark yesterday. He called in the morning in tears, told me I had hurt him badly.

I can't imagine ever doing that to Marty or anyone I loved. I didn't react well, I became defensive and told him that I would not accept a guilt trip, that I had been honest with him all along, and that I could not be his girlfriend.

He said nothing, so I told him that I needed to let him go, and then I put the phone down. He called back but I didn't pick up.

Later he left me a message, saying he was sorry if he had offended me. Shortly after, he rang again. My friend Randy was there, and I think that helped me stay calm and allow Mark to talk.

I accepted his apology and told him he was a good person and it was nothing he did wrong that made me "break up" with him - in my mind, we never had an official relationship, we were just two people dating casually.

I told him I thought trying to stay "friends," as he suggested, would merely impede his ability to move on. I told him that nothing had changed since the day in April when I told him I did not want to be alone with him, and that his walking out the door that day was the most appropriate thing he could have done. He seemed to accept this. I had the sense that we may now really have closure.
About this time, Claire suggested that I take the initiative and write a note to Marty saying, "well, are you going to invite me out for lunch or not?"
Your advice about Marty is thought-provoking, but I have decided to leave it up to him to make the next move. He answered my question. I replied in the same tone. If he doesn't take up the gauntlet, I've determined to let it go.

For the first time this morning, I found myself asking the powers in the universe to release me, in essence, "praying" that he does not respond to my message, so I can be ultimately free of the power he still has to command my thoughts and dreams.
A month went by.

Randy showed up for a date with roses and chocolates.
I was very surprised. But my heart still does not flutter when I see him.

I told him that part of me wanted to tell him to date other women. This seemed to upset him. I said that I didn't know what I wanted and that asking him for time felt like I was promising that, in time, there would be a reward, and that that was a commitment I did not want to make.

He insisted he would be fine whichever way things went (but Mark insisted the same thing, and he wasn't fine).
Thoughts of Marty still plagued me daily. I came close to breaking my resolve not to contact him again.
God help me, Claire, he is so "present" right now. Randy and I went to the park for the fireworks, the same place I went with Marty last year, and I kept turning around and expecting to see him there.

I wanted to see him - I wanted to smile at him.
This time Marty was the one to break the silence.

"Love will abide, take things in stride
Sounds like good advice but there's no one at my side
And time washes clean love's wounds unseen
That's what someone told me but I don't know what it means

'Cause I've done everything I know
To try and make you mine
And I think I'm gonna love you
For a long, long time

Caught in my fears blinking back the tears
I can't say you hurt me when you never let me near
And I never drew, one response from you
All the while you fell all over girls you never knew

'Cause I've done everything I know
To try and make you mine
And I think it's gonna hurt me
For a long, long time

Wait for the day, you'll go away
Knowing that you warned me, of the price I'd have to pay
And life's full of flaws, who knows the cause
Living in the memory of a love that never was

'Cause I've done everything I know
To try and change your mind
And I think I'm gonna miss you
For a long, long time."

(Gary White)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You can't practice genius

"Weathered faces lined in pain are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand."

On Lampwork Etc. right now there is a discussion about whether talent is innate or if it can be cultivated by practice.

The original poster said that she didn't believe that practice could turn a good artist into a master artist. She used Van Gogh as an example of talent. I happen to idolize Van Gogh. His work, I mean. And I agreed with the original poster that no matter how much I practiced I would never achieve that level of artistry.

Before I jumped in, I asked Neil his thoughts. He said, "you can't practice genius." That pretty much sums it up for me.

The discussion veered off on several tangents. Art is in the eye of the beholder. You can master technique by practice. The eye for design and composition is innate. The eye for design and composition can be learned. It is all subjective and the only thing that matters is what you feel.

Creativity isn't something that can be learned. Creativity is something that can be learned. Van Gogh was a failure all his life anyway, didn't sell any of his work, was largely unknown as an artist, had problems with mental illness, and eventually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

My own comment was this. Practice perfects execution. Vision is a gift.

I hover on the verge of the conclusion that I lack vision.

Yet a comment on the other side of the fence also spoke to me. Talent gets trumped by hard work every time.

I suppose that's true, to the extent you have a talent and you don't use it. Woody Allen (who I don't idolize, but that's another post) is credited with saying "80 percent of success is showing up." Allen made the comment in the context of wannabee writers and playwrights, i.e., those who completed a play or a novel were on their way to production or publication, as opposed to the vast majority who claim their ambition is to write, but who never actually write the play or book at all.

I've been thinking a lot about this as I make beads that aren't selling right now. I question why I keep making beads. I wonder about the line that divides breathtaking artistry and competent work.

There are lampwork artists who make simply amazing beads. But I don't just admire the beads for their beauty. I stand awed by the artist's ability to conceptualize the bead.

Some great bead artists find their niche and make variations on a theme that never get old. And that's great. But other bead artists continue to envision and produce new styles of beads, each as appealing as the last, and that's brilliant.

In my mind, the jury still is out on whether I have what we are calling talent. In my own assessment, I have done nothing artistically that puts me into the camp of the master bead makers. Not yet. Maybe never. But I haven't completely abandoned hope. So on I plod.

And yes I know that there are people who admire my work and elevate me to the level of lampwork luminary. I think that's because they are my friends and most are not bead makers and most are not familiar with the breadth of the bead making art and the body of work of the truly visionary lampworkers. It's just that I know the difference.

I do think I make some pretty beads, along with lots of adequate beads, but nothing I've done has been truly original. There are those who'd say that there's nothing new under the sun anyway, that everything that can be done with glass and a torch has already been done, whether you know it or not. I disagree. I see artists experimenting with new ideas, exploring new techniques, perfecting novel styles. Almost every day, thanks to the Internet.

I've just dived into a new media, enamels on glass. After six semesters of classes I'm hanging up my efforts to learn to enamel on metals and to fabricate jewelry from metals. I've faced the music, I have no special knack for it and I'm no longer enjoying the journey. However, I've now become interested in working with enamel on beads.

I've tinkered with enamels and powders in the past but this time I've thrown my whole self in by ordering small jars of all 46 colors of enamel made for soft glass. Color stimulates me, having lots of it to choose from excites me. I'm hopeful that it will even tickle my imagination too. But I know there's a learning curve, and I have to accept that I may be making some ugly beads as I strive to tame a new material.

Anyway, it's a change of pace. On Sunday I worked with five enamel colors plus white, today I worked with five different colors plus white. Reds and blues, greens and yellows, purples and oranges, the color wheel in fact, so far.

I want to get a little bit proficient before I dive into the palette that really excites me, the orchids and violets and peaches. And I haven't yet tested any of the fourteen transparent colors.

Who knows. It may be a phase. Or maybe it will be my breakthrough. I may mix it up, work with some enamels and some silver glass and some leaf and foil.

What I want to focus on and know I need to focus on is making beads that are art in my own mind. I've said it before, I'm a validation junkie, but since my needs there are not being met, I have two choices. Stop making beads. Or set my goal as making beads that please me. We can debate whether talent can or cannot be achieved by practice all the livelong day. But at the end of the day, the only way to empirically define "talent" is subjective. It's all in how you choose to look at it.

Besides, if I stopped making beads, I'd probably become obsessed with something else. With luck it would be something healthy and productive.

Unlike my grand obsession with the man who done me wrong eleven going on twelve years ago.

Sometime in April 2002, after Marty did the pull and push thing again (or was it I who did the pull and push thing?), I ended my "no-strings" relationship with Mark.
It had gotten to the point that I dreaded being alone with him because he'd want to have sex. I felt like I couldn't keep accepting favors (mowing my yard, shampooing my carpets) and gifts (he was always buying me really nice presents) and be unwilling to be intimate.
We were at my house on a Saturday and I just didn't want him to be there. I told him I couldn't be with him any more. At first he seemed to understand. He left.

But later he came to irrationally believe that because he left my house that day, that he had somehow walked out on me, and that the breakup (if you can break up with someone you never actually made a commitment to) was his fault.

Marty was still very much present in my heart. When I told him to "go in peace" I secretly hoped he'd convince me otherwise, but he immediately gave up.
I always felt that if we had a chance to get back together it would only work if he wanted it very, very much, at least as much as I did, if not more. It appeared he didn't.
Since he didn't follow up, I once again tried to put him out of my mind. But it wasn't working. I still thought of him all the time.
I don't know what to do. Keep on keeping on, as I have these last long months, or make one more effort? Write him another note and ask him to see me?

I keep hoping to meet someone new who will capture my imagination. But days go by where my heart aches to think Marty isn't with me, when my mind and soul dispute the idea that he could have any true chance at happiness without me in his life.

Could it be pride keeping us apart? Or is that a delusion? Was he just a player who has no ability to feel deeply beyond the next easy pleasure? Logic tells me, if he cared, he'd come to me.

I doubt myself.
Mark was writing multiple sad email messages to me every day. His efforts to hold on by telling me he loved me didn't make him attractive to me, just pathetic.
I don't want to seem pathetic to Marty for holding on this far on down the road. Much better to accept not being with him in this lifetime.

So I can't make a move, yet I can't seem to let go of the hope that he will make a move. I fantasize that he will knock on my door with an armful of roses. Wherever I go, I look for him in the crowds, his tall, leonine figure, his beautiful face.

I know that one day this will end. I won't always have that urge to reach him. I will meet someone else who takes my breath away, or time will simply work its healing magic. Memories do fade.
I still had to get through the next three months, the months he and I were together a year earlier. Maybe when those dates had come and gone, he'd lose his power over me, the spell would be broken.
I don't even know if it is really Marty the human being that I miss, or some fantasy lover, some recollection of that joyous but fleeting time. He proved himself to lack character. Why do I want him so still? I need to let it go.

Twice I have declared Independence Day from the albatross around my neck that is Marty, once in January and again on April 1, and here it is, past Memorial Day, and I'm still stuck on dead center.

I've given it to God - over and over - and I feel like God keeps handing it back.
A year had passed since Marty first contacted me. All the old questions still swirled in my mind.
Was it all really nothing more than an illusion, a figment of the imagination?

Or was it real - and then something happened to change it?

Looking at the cold hard facts, I know it doesn't look good for Marty. Someone who "loves you so much" one day doesn't push you away overnight because a former girlfriend contacts him - and then put his personal ad back on the Internet three weeks later.

Am I being cold? Weren't those real tears in his eyes when he spoke about her? Or were they the same tears he cried when he told me about his bitchy heartless wife? The same ones as when he "misted up" because I "moved him so"?

And yet I don't believe he lied. I won't accept that he played me. I can't believe there could be so much evil in the world. I won't believe it was just a game.

Marty hurts. I felt it. It is part of what drew me to him, the consanguine ache. No one will ever understand him as I do, no one will have the empathy and compassion for him that I have.

I am so sorry for him for not having me. It breaks my heart.
I was beating a dead horse again.
There are no answers. Marty himself probably doesn't really know why he did what he did.

It makes me want to give him one more chance. Dammit.

I honestly think that happiness is an inside job. Getting there is the challenging part. I think we have to learn to be happy with ourselves, alone, first. I myself have fought this, kicking and screaming. As soon as one relationship ends I rush right out trying to find another one as quickly as possible. It's a panacea, but in the long run it derails the cure.
Of course, I had a new person now.
I have been going out with Randy, but I feel no real chemistry. He is a nice man who seems to enjoy my company. We have been going out on weekends, mostly to dinner, movies, a baseball game.

In all this time, maybe a dozen dates by now, he has never once tried to hold my hand or kiss me good night. I think he likes me and is respecting me, based on what I have told him about Mark's high-pressure tactics and pushiness.

It's very strange. I think it has to go one way or another at some point. Right now I don't know what I want, so I guess we will continue to have dinner, see movies or whatever else, without commitments.
During this time, Mark continued to barrage me with email messages, six, seven or more, every day. Then he suddenly fell silent. After a week I was concerned enough to wonder how he was coping, but cognizant that if I inquired it might raise false hopes.

It was about this time that I started a correspondence with a woman in Scotland, Claire, who I'd met on a new message board. We were the same age and there were uncanny parallel aspects in our respective situations. It comforted both of us to openly exchange our thoughts, to share our dreams and doubts and disappointments.

God knows, no one else in my life wanted to hear about it any more.

"Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night
You took your life, as lovers often do

But I could've told you Vincent
This world was never meant for
One as beautiful as you."

Don McClean

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What really matters

"What part of our history's reinvented and under rug swept?"

Thanksgiving Day. 2013.

I'm having a soft pants day (like a pajama day) today because all the kids are going to their "other" parents' celebrations today.

So we'll have our turkey dinner tomorrow, but we're keeping it simple because we are cooking challenged.

Neil picked up turkey, ham and brisket from Goode Company BBQ yesterday.

Today we'll bake bran muffins (with and without raisins) because that is our holiday tradition. Neil will make his "special pie" (graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, real whipped cream, sprinkles). I'm going to make some no-bake cookies (cereal, white chocolate, dried fruits and nuts).

Tomorrow I'm making sweet potato casserole, corn casserole and stuffing. Cranberry sauce is courtesy of Trader Joe's.

Lame, I know, but that's how we roll.

It's not about the food right? It's about gratitude and spending time with family and friends.

I am grateful for my life. I would be grateful for it even if it wasn't a fairy tale life, but it is. Saying so is scary because I immediately have superstitious thoughts that I will jinx it and it will all go wrong. Funny, when I am sad I feel guilty for my sadness and when I'm happy I feel guilty for my happiness.

My gratitude list starts with Neil and my two children and my grandchild. As long as they are well, nothing else really is important. Sure, I'd rather not be living under a bridge, but people, not things, are what matter.

That said, I am grateful for my things. I am grateful for my beautiful, comfortable home and enough food to eat and clothes to wear and savings in the bank against that proverbial rainy day.

I am grateful that my former employer and I agreed (in July 2011) that it was time for us to part company and that I have been able to dedicate myself to my glass art and to the other things I love since that time. Among those other things I love, two bear a special mention, my volunteer work with the adoptable cats at Sugar Land Animal Services, and the fitness regime, adopted a year ago, that I have sustained and that has been vital to my improved fitness and sense of well being.

I'm grateful, strange as it sounds, for my mom's death on October 30. She now is permanently out of her great emotional and physical pain. I'm grateful that my dad's death three years ago on November 30 was sudden, that unlike my mom, he never lost his intellect or his dignity, and that he did not suffer long.

I'm grateful for my brother and the way we've been able to support each other through the last difficult three years and the way we trust each other and for our relationship which will continue now independent of connection by our parents. I'm grateful for my cousins too, who connect me to my past and who make me part of an extended family, as we inexorably move forward into the place of the senior generation.

I'm grateful for my cats, Loki and Zamboni, who are an important part of my life every day, who touch me with their love and make me laugh at their antics. Laughter is medicine.

I'm grateful for Neil's family too, that I have good relationships with my step-children and my in-laws, that his parents are still relatively spry and independent, and that his siblings and their families are family to me too.

I'm grateful that Neil is easily amused, that he makes me laugh, that I can make him laugh, that we don't just love each other but we are intentionally conscious that loving each other is something to be cherished and nourished and valued. I'm grateful that my children are socially conscious and grounded and that despite the mistakes that I think I made raising them, I must have done enough things right, because I don't just love them, I am awed by them.

I haven't mentioned my gratitude for my friends yet, although I certainly am grateful for all of them, because I wanted to share something my eldest posted today on Facebook that expresses that gratitude better than I possibly could.
Day 28, I'm thankful for YOU. If you are reading this, then I am talking about you. Every single person that I've interacted with this last year has meant something to me, where you sent me a sweet note, a gift, or took a minute to think a happy thought for me. And it has meant the world to me. I am so ridiculously blessed to have the people I do in my corner. They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it takes a village to raise a single mom too. In a hundred lifetimes, I could never be thankful enough. I sincerely hope you and yours have a wonderful thanksgiving full of memories, laughter, good company and good food.

And to my precious Ryland Kade, mommy loves you to the moon. Happy Thanksgiving, my sweet boy. We might not be together, but I carry you in my heart, and NO ONE can ever take that away from us. (K.C.B.W.)
Thanksgiving Day. 2013.

I'm a world away from where I was in early 2002, which is also the year I met Neil, although that came later, just after Thanksgiving in fact. For now, I'll just say, I'm grateful for unanswered prayers.

Since December 31, 2001, I had let Marty's last note go unanswered. In late March, 2002, his company voted to approve its buyout by a California competitor.

I wrote him a one line note, asking if he would be leaving Houston now. I felt like some of my healing was tied to his being gone for good.

But I attached the note to a note he had written me the previous June, The title of the note was "Unfinished Business." It was a love letter where he said he was "so in love" with me.
I guess there is a part of me that still wants to stick it under his nose and say "see, look what you did, how could you do something so reprehensible, to write such words to me and then leave me alone in darkness." I have never spoken my piece to him, I have sat in silence and grieved privately
I sent the note because I felt good and strong enough to cope with whatever response I got, including an angry one or none at all. I was prepared for almost anything else but this.
Liz.... please call me.... I want to talk.

I can't believe you still have this, and I can't believe you sent me this note at a time when I've been thinking of you - of us.... please call.... it doesn't matter what time of night or day. I would love to speak with you.

Thank you for your note! Marty
Before I could frame an answer, he sent a second note.
Liz... I would love to call you, but I've lost your phone number! I'm very sorry.

To answer your question, I still don't know what will become of me if the merger goes through. At this point, I have to say I'm hoping to stay in Houston for now.

There's nothing to go home to in Syracuse - Mary has moved on, tired of the waiting and frustration, and the economy up there is worse than ever, plus the 9/11 disasters have sucked even more economic life out of the entire state.

I guess this is a good time to be footloose. If the worst case does happen and I lose my job, I guess I can go just about anywhere there's a good opportunity - but I want a home.

I hope you're well and happy.

Did he really think that I would come back as a consolation prize?

If he was thinking about us, why hadn't he e-mailed me? Or did he "lose" my e-mail address too?
I have no clue what I want to do about this. I'm shaking just thinking about it.

Part of me has always felt that Marty and I were each other's best chance at happiness. But all that means is that we may be less happy here on earth in this lifetime without each other, not that we should ever be together again.
In the end, this is the note I sent.
I still have everything. But do you think that what happened is surmountable?

I am well and reasonably happy. I can honestly say that I'm healthier, physically and psychically, than I was a year ago, before you and I met.

Trite as it sounds, it is true that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I would not want to jeopardize that for the world.

Sorry, this seems to be all about me. Oh well.

In return, he wrote this.
Liz, I don't know if what happened is surmountable. I have some warm memories of our time together. If you prefer to leave that in the past and move on, that's fine.

I'm glad you're doing better these days. If you have kept everything and were curious enough to ask the question, I thought you might want to at least talk - I'd like that.

But, since I've answered your question about leaving Houston as best I can for now, I'll just leave it to you whether we talk.

It's good to know you're well. Keep taking care of yourself.

What a frigging romantic, huh?

I have to say, it made me feel a little sick.

The tone was so different from the first note, where he said he had been thinking about me - and about us - and wanted to talk and asked me to call him (please), any time, night or day.
In some ways I am sorry I started this, but in other ways I'm not. I learned something. Some things.

In his second letter, he said that since Mary has "moved on" there is "nothing to go home to."

I guess his three sons are nothing to him.

I like him less and less. I am sad that I could have been so wrong about someone and have suffered so much over someone so graceless.

I didn't cry this time. My heart is heavy today, but I believe it will pass soon.

Maybe this is finally the closure I felt was still needed?

Please, please, please, let it be so.

I need to let it go, for once and for all. I am not usually so stupid and such a slow learner.
I thought about leaving it there. He did answer my question about whether he was going to be leaving town.

But of course I couldn't do it. So I called. Twice. The first time I didn't leave a message. The second time I said, "Hi Marty, it's Liz, sorry I missed you, I'll try again another time."

I didn't want to leave my number -- I didn't trust him enough for that.

He wrote again.
Sorry I missed you!

Liz.... I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you called last night.

I’ll be around Saturday all day.

It was nice to hear your voice – thanks again!

Saturday was March 30.

I called.

It was a strangely neutral conversation - we never got past our families and our jobs. No feelings. We were old friends catching up (yeah, right).

He seemed genuinely pleased that I called, but he didn't ask for my phone number or suggest a meeting. In my minds eye, I had thought that I'd prefer to have any discussion of feelings in person - but that never even came up.

After about 20 minutes (that went by in a flash) his neighbor came to his door (he said) and I said I needed to get going. He said, stay in touch. I said, we'll see.
So that, as they say, is that. I will not contact him again (at least that is what I believe at this moment in time). He may, but probably won't, contact me. I'd still like to know if and when he leaves town for good.

Despite knowing that he is nothing but bad news for me, I have a soft spot for him yet. Maybe I am getting to forgiveness?

I am still seeking the beauty that comes when longing and joy intersect. I do believe in soul connections and that we have the potential for these throughout our lives.
It was right after this that someone on the support forum called me out for continuing to pine for Marty, a man I had met on a "singles" site. And I had to agree with her.
You are absolutely right. I've worn out my welcome with Marty. I myself am sick of talking about him and thinking about him. He is a weak and pathetic person and I am done with it now. No more. It is done!

Once again I am declaring Independence Day. April 1. What a perfect day.
But it wasn't done.

A few days later, I sent him a link to a story that appeared in The Onion on April 3. The title was You Used Me For Sex, Friendship, And Good Conversation.

I thought it was funny, in an ironic way.

He didn't like it, not one little bit. He wrote this.
OK. Thank you - may I have another?

I'm glad you're in a happier and healthier place, Liz. I really am. Thanks for being in touch.
I thought about that for a while. On Saturday April 6, a week after we'd talked, I sent him this note. The subject line was "Flagellation, satire, Elvis, and the end of laughter and soft lies." I was rather proud of that.
Marty, believe me, after all this time, I have better things to do than to slap you around.

The Onion piece was pure satire. I thought you'd chuckle. I did.

Too much baggage. Elvis said it best: "We can't go on together with suspicious minds."

No malice. Take care. Pax vobiscum.

And of course he wrote right back.
Liz, thanks.... I guess I was hoping that. I'm familiar with The Onion and understand the satire - even did chuckle a little, but a part of me does feel truly sad and regretful for hurting you and always will.

No malice here, either - only the sincerest wishes for your happiness and gratitude that you're achieving what you are! And suspicion has nothing to do with it - it's just good, old-fashioned guilt.

Happy weekend!

He still didn't get it.

But I could no longer afford to make that my problem.

Once more, I let his last note go unanswered.

"Ooh this could get messy
Ooh I don't seem to mind
Ooh don't go telling everybody
And overlook this supposed crime

We'll fast forward to a few years later
And no one knows except the both of us
I've more than honored your request for silence
And you've washed your hands clean of this

What part of our history's reinvented and under rug swept?
What part of your memory is selective and tends to forget?
What with this distance it seems so obvious?"

Alanis Morissette, Hands Clean