Tag Archives: divorce

he gave me a backpack, he showed me the way

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His last gift to me was a backpack.  A royal blue, 60 liter, Gregory backpacking pack. Rugged, heavy, built for the wilderness and paid for with drug money, or maybe it was stolen. He smiled while he extended the pack and I felt his glassy, bloodshot eyes trying to read my face. I hesitated, as this gift-giving stank of another tactic to delay me in throwing his ass out of the house we bought three years earlier with the blind optimism of newlyweds. A new build, as young as our marriage. I can recall the smell of the fresh plywood as we wandered through the partially framed-out structure the day we signed the purchase agreement. We were two children playing house in a half-built skeleton, wondering where the ceiling fan would hang in the living room.  If I had known what demons lurked in the shadows of the not-so-distant future I would have fallen to my knees in the construction dust and screamed.  Instead, I innocently grasped his sweaty hand with mine and contemplated ceiling fans. It was better that way, better not to know of the impending storm. It wasn’t long, after all, before the demons stepped into the light; we saw their faces and whispered their names, and began the long slog of suffering which brought us, too-thin and broken, to that moment under the whirring ceiling fan when he handed me a backpack. A bulky manufacturer’s tag swung back and forth in the circulating air and the body of the pack was slightly slumped, begging to be filled with camping gear. My toes curled on the standard-issue, builders-grey carpeting while I steadied my face, trying to suppress delight at the pack so as not to confuse the giver, for I had no delight left for him. But I smiled, I couldn’t help myself, and I took the backpack from his shaky grip. Sliding it on my thin shoulders it felt foreign, but somehow right.

How did he know I needed that backpack? He was nearly as shattered as a person can be, consumed by addiction and rocked with grief. Was he informed by whatever love for me that remained lodged in his big, broken heart? Was some higher force working through this tortured man, transforming selfishness into charity? I may never know, but this gift, this final act of generosity in our doomed marriage, was the answer to the question I had yet to articulate.  In giving me a backpack he showed me the door to my salvation , although I didn’t walk through it in earnest for many more years.  I had more suffering to do.  I had to fall further before I was ready to rise.

Oh, and I have risen!  Nature has soothed me.  Freedom has saved me. And this pack has been with me through it all, my trusted companion while I strolled through forest meadows, gazed at the sea, smelled temple incense and gulped thin mountain air. We shared the adventures he and I only dreamed of. It has traveled in trucks, planes, trains, but mostly on my sweaty back. We have been rained on, hailed on, snowed on, and baked in the desert sun. I have kicked dust on it, I have thread wildflowers through its numerous straps. I have dropped it, propped it, hung it, slugged it. It is starting to show its age, but I still adventure with it proudly.  From misery to ecstasy, we have been through a lot together.

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released from optimism

I sort through the vestiges of a past life.  A fifth grade report card.  Figure skating trophies. A yellowed love letter.  Photographs.

I have literally carried this box of memories with me for miles.  I have moved at least 15 times since graduating from high school. How many creaky steps have a I slugged up with these relics in my arms? How many shelves have they sat on, gathering dust?

Some things I’m keeping, some things I’m throwing. But even what I keep doesn’t hold me anymore. These artifacts tell a story that today seems of little consequence, the story of a young person who no longer exists. My mother’s death is the red smudge on my timeline. It it is the plot twist, it is the sentinel event. What came before is the story of someone else. I don’t dislike this person, but she isn’t me anymore.

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Chacala, Nayarit. Age 16.

Terry Tempest Williams wrote in Refuge that losing her mother released her from her optimism.  I used to be someone that furiously planned, incessantly dreamed, a person hypnotized by the promises of the future and happy endings. But then life happened. I have said I do, and later I won’t. I have watched my mother get sick and die. My missteps and a few macabre twists of fate have cost me dearly, in every way. I have tasted the bitter knowledge that all my dreams won’t come true, can never come true.

But here is the thing- joy isn’t sequestered in some future date, nor is it bound up in the past. Joy is neither encased in romantic love, nor unlocked only by achievement.  It simply is, and it is right here for the taking. So I find my salvation in the now.  I am not mesmerized by a past which is no more, and I refuse to be transfixed by whispered promises that lie beyond the horizon. I hold my memories loosely, so as to not get too attached to things which are no more. I am released from the bounds of optimism. I no longer subscribe to the blind faith that things will get better (even if sometimes they do). I no longer practice the religion of anything that pulls me away from the present moment. Which gives me the space to relish the earth beneath me, the sky above me.

The now is the only place where I find peace.

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Sierra Ancha Wilderness. October 2013.

 

I take pictures of birds because I can

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It might have been a little foolish. I lost my savings in the divorce, and I really had no business spending money on things I didn’t “need.”

But I wanted to take pictures of birds.

So I bought a camera, a nice one.  I don’t even really know how to use it yet- my high school photography class was in the previous millenium, long before digital SLRs. But I’m able to take pictures of birds.

So I do.

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the cultivation of a new life

DSC_0083The last six years have been mired in suffering:

Marital strife. The illness and death of my mother. The drug abuse and addiction of a loved one. The uncertainties of grad school and a new career.  Financial stress. Infertility. Miscarriage.

My life looks nothing like the life I thought I would have.  I’m 33, twice divorced. I am staying with my cat in a home owned by my parents.  I don’t have a couch, or a television. I don’t have a garden. I don’t have a husband.  I don’t have a baby.

The past six years may have taken away my dreams, my home, the woman who was my best friend.  But in all that I have let go, I have cultivated the gift of personal truth.

This may not be the life I planned on, the life that was expected of me.  But it is mine, a tender seedling nourished by solitude and the relentless beating of my heart. I feed my reborn life with crimson blood, honoring my truth by making it my own. I travel. I plunge into the wilderness.  I take big bites of the foods I love.  I listen to great songs twice, and then I listen again, but only if I feel like it.

Are finer things beyond the horizon? I don’t know. It is by some strange grace that I can I open up my eyes and appreciate that today, despite grief and uncertainty, is actually pretty wonderful. I’m healthy, with strong legs that carry me to mountain peaks and canyon depths. Legs that stroll the banks of sacred waters and skip along Manhattan sidewalks. Perhaps as months and years pass, the seedling of my life will transform into a wizened old oak tree, all craggy and leafy and deeply rooted. But at this point, there is too much uncertainty. I don’t know the direction my branches will ultimately point. But the missteps, the pain and the loss of the preceeding years have cultivated a new start, an opportunity to discover what to do with this one wild and precious life. I know this much is clear–

I am the flurry of beating wings at takeoff.

I am the unfinished symphony.

I am the unexpected breeze that lifts your skirt.

I am free.

500 days

505 days ago my mother died.

520 days earlier, she received her first chemotherapy treatment. She’s been gone nearly as long as she was sick.

Much can transpire in a single moment.  The moments gently layer upon each other, and accumulate mostly unnoticed until maybe a year and some change later you look back with a gentle shake of the head and say to yourself, damn, a lot has happened in the past 500 days.

Maybe you conceived and delivered the baby who is suckling at your breast.  Many of my friends did.

Maybe you lost your mind, the last remnants of your freedom.  My grandmother did.

Maybe you became a vegan and lost 40 pounds and now spend your free time hiking in the mountains. My stepfather did, and does.

Maybe your marriage ended. My sister’s did, my best friend’s did, mine did.

A handful of months, 500 days or so– enough time to snuff out a life, to create a life, to reclaim a life.

And what will I do with the next 500 days? What will you do?

the spinning wheel

I have been quiet lately, as I have been undergoing a challenging transition.  Amidst the tears and the pain, I know that I am growing and becoming. My life is going to be entirely different than I imagined, and my future is unknown.  But today the sun is shining, the birds are chirping gently, and despite the emotional storms of the past few months the morning breeze is gentle, as though the breath of a higher power is caressing me gently with the soothing reminder: yes, Katy, you will be okay.

And I know I will be.

Life cycles forward.  There is comfort in this spinning wheel of destruction, death, rebirth. It is the natural order of everything. We break down so we can begin again.  We fall so we can fly.

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endurance

I ran a half marathon yesterday.

I wasn’t always able to run. A large, physically awkward kid, I who would rather read a book than do much of anything else, and that included being active. I was consistently the slowest kid when we ran races at school and perpetually picked last when we formed teams in gym class. My mother kept encouraging me, and I learned the joy of moving my body in the ice skating classes she made me take.  Soon, I wasn’t quite so slow and awkward in gym class, but I still was no runner.

I started running in college to prove to myself that I could do it. It seemed difficult and unnatural during my first slogs through the streets, but over time I learned the joy of a breeze on my shoulders, the rhythmic pounding of my feet with matching breath.  I started running more and more and with my dad, and he spread the marathon bug to me.  In two years I ran 5 marathons, two half-marathons.  I was never fast, I was never even not-slow, but I could endure, and that’s really all that mattered, all that matters.

Dad went on to complete over 20 marathons, including qualifying for and running Boston, but I had to step away from marathons in 2007, after a disastrous race in Honolulu (painful on every level, it started with shivering in the rain while waiting for the race to start and ended with my then-husband telling me to go fuck myself after I hobbled, with blistered feet, across the line). My personal life was unraveling, and I became depleted on every level.  I couldn’t run 45 miles a week anymore. Some days it was all I could do to get out of bed.

But I kept running, albeit for shorter distances, through the divorce, through grad-school stresses,  through my mom’s illness and untimely death, and now, through the frustration of infertility.  What was once difficult and unnatural has now become part of me. Before I started my marathon of loss, I’m glad I had running to teach me that I’m stronger than I think.

the course was very challenging!
image retrieved from http://runkeith.blogspot.com/2012/03/half-marathon-and-mountain.html

Even now, as the load of grief over losing my mother is lightening a bit, I’m finding it difficult to fit in time for my long runs.  I was under trained for the half-marathon and my muscles are protesting terribly today.  I almost skipped the race entirely due to the undertraining, being out late at the opera the night before, etc.  But  I figured I could likely finish the race without an injury, so I went for it. Because I have the gift of health, and I’ll lose that too someday.  But before that happens, I’m going to use it.