Normal: I Never Thought I Would Be Here

In a country where divorce has become an inevitability, it’s no surprise that, as a society, we’re pretty damned reluctant to admit how much it screws us all up. As a divorcee, with divorced parents, I’m not throwing stones, here. My childhood, though, like that of half of North America, is split into two points: before the divorce and after the divorce.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I have no illusions that my life would have been improved by my parents staying together. Those two… it was like if Archie Bunker of All in the Family had married Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. Sure, there were times when they were good together… or more accurately good separately, but zetus lapetus, all I remember after age seven was hate and insanity. The most obnoxious thread in any divorce discussion is the erroneous claim that these marriages shouldn’t have ended. Had my parents not been allowed to part, I’d have been orphaned in a murder/suicide by age twelve. I’m not really exaggerating. Despite divorce sometimes being the best option, however, that doesn’t mean those involved aren’t damaged from it.

3ed6673b748b2e9208e960af20a81decI literally cannot watch this movie, because she reminds me of my mother.

Before my parents divorced, I was… normal, for lack of a better word. I was ornery and a bit bossier than the other kids in my class, but I didn’t get in a lot of trouble at school or home. I never wore the cutest clothes or the most complicated hairstyles, but I was dressed in clean and matching outfits and I fit in with the other kids, well enough. Then, everything changed and I was too young to understand why. The other kids didn’t like me, because no one was making sure I was bathing or brushing my teeth. I was putting on weight, so I grew defensive and mean. I got in trouble constantly, because I acted out in class, wishing more than anything that I could be the petite teacher’s pet or the cute blonde girl who was good at sports. I was the smelly, chubby kid, who was always sitting out at recess for one reason or another. Of course, at age eight, I didn’t understand that this was the direct result of my parents’ distraction during their divorce. I thought something was wrong with me.

131753-katy-perry-geek-video-gif-imgu-te1h

I get it, y’all. I don’t hold a grudge for any of this. If anyone understands the consequences of choosing the wrong person, it’s me. My parents tried… mostly… sometimes? Regardless, I still had my Gramma, food in the fridge, and plenty of material wants provided by said Gramma. I’m not typing this while weeping over Sarah McLachlan’s Angel (or I wasn’t until I got the craving to listen to that song… fucking emotions). What I didn’t have, however, what affected me most deeply, was the sense of normalcy I enjoyed for the first seven years of my life. I’m not being dramatic when I tell you that I never got that sense of belonging back, even after the dust settled.

I started showering, wearing deodorant, brushing my hair… but those formative years of being outcast and bullied, set a precedent. If I wasn’t going to fit in, it would be because I chose exclusion. I eventually made friends, many of whom were equally defensive, and gained a sense of inclusion from the refusal to conform, but it wasn’t the same as feeling truly accepted, even if my friends or those looking in saw no difference. With a still unstable home life, it’s no surprise that I clung to a true outcast, mistaking him for a kindred spirit, instead of a man who was being rejected for having no good in him. I married him at 19 and I have never felt more alone. If being chubby and unwashed and bad at sports made me feel excluded at age 10, being morbidly obese and plain and married to a sociopath at age 20 made me feel like Will Smith in I am Legend. Like, literally, I had the dog. That’s it.

the_20omega_20gif4

Y’all, I never thought I would be here. After Gail’s and my shockingly similar divorces, I was pretty convinced that all of the “happy” people were… lying. I don’t mean that in some catty way, mocking the Facebook statuses and family newsletters, so much as I mean that I never witnessed true happiness. I assumed the people complaining about their relationships on Facebook were being tacky and the ones who weren’t just knew better than to air their dirty laundry in public. I didn’t want everyone to be miserable, but of course they were. 

Then… I lost 90 pounds, graduated with my master’s degree, started my career, and life was good. Things were really working out. I was headed in the right direction. I had great friends and coworkers. I felt like I actually fit into society, for the first time in nearly 20 years. Sure, I hadn’t met a good man, but… how many of those were really out there? Why would they want me with all my mouthiness and baggage? Still, I prayed. I asked God to help me to get over myself so I’d see a good man when I found one. I asked for a man of strong character to love me and take care of me and let me love and take care of him. I prayed for someone who would bring out the best in me and for whom I could do the same. I wanted a good father for my children and even bargained, promising it would be okay if I couldn’t get a full time job, if I could just get him; because more than anything, I still yearned for the traditional family unit comprised of a husband, wife, and kids… “normal.” I knew many women who were fulfilled and happy without these, but I would never be one of them. I followed up said prayers with bad date after bad date, often crying to Gail about how it was “never going to happen,” while making self-actualized blog posts about why people wouldn’t want to date me… and along came Jake.

Just shy of one year ago, I headed out on what would undoubtedly be just another funny blog post. Instead, I met a guy who more or less looked like his picture, opened the door for me, paid for an actual date, laughed at my jokes (even the unintentionally offensive ones), and was charismatic and fun. I left to take my Gramma a birthday present and told her it wasn’t love at first sight, but I liked him, he seemed to like me, and I’d go on a second date if I ever heard from him again.

One year later, I make no exaggeration when I say that Jake is everything I never knew I needed and wanted. He’s responsible, independent, adventurous, funny, intelligent, unbearably obstinate, considerate, attentive, generous, affectionate, impossible to offend, driven, hardworking, charismatic, rational, even-tempered, and good to his core. He both tells me and shows me that he loves me. He makes me strive to be a better person, while encouraging my passions and relationships. He gives me a sense of stability I never knew I was missing. He has strong, healthy friendships with good people and so much love for his own family, that I know that being with him will never make me feel excluded, isolated, or worst of all damned. I still don’t believe in soulmates, but I do believe in answered prayers. Is it sappy to say all this? Does this completely defy all of my claims that emotions belong with the last Horcrux and feelings are for the inside? Sure. But sometimes that’s what gratitude looks like.

post-49541-thumper-twitterpated-gif-imgur-jztn

Advertisements

A World Without Grace

I was in class the day Grace came into the world. I left early, when I got Gail’s text, planning to visit her in the hospital. Gail and I, being Gail and I, she was comfortable telling me that she was exhausted and felt gross and didn’t want anymore visitors. I accepted that and met her little lady about a week later.

Me: “She’s all wrinkly… and red. When do they get cute?”

rachel green with ben
This IS how I would hold a football!”

Don’t worry. It happened… eventually… and quite severely.

I tell everyone that I was Aunt Belle to Gail’s daughter, but in truth, Gail was not immediately comfortable with bestowing that honor. Understandably, she didn’t want to give a family title to someone who was not technically family, possibly confusing Grace if I wasn’t around much. Over the next eight months, however, Grace became a far more regular part of my life than most of my family, including my actual niece. Any time Gail would swing by to pick me up in her 1997 Bonneville, filled to the brim with crap, I would automatically check the backseat for Grace. Her presence would set the tone of the day, be it drinks and appetizers in the arts district, or having infant Christmas photos taken at Target. It didn’t matter, because I loved Gail and I loved Grace.

labyrinth_lady2Gail driving the Bonneville. No really. I once had to sit in the back, because there was no room up front..

While Grace never smiled, in her life, she adored Family Guy and the sex scenes of True Blood. It had to be something about the colors and movement, but that little lady would nearly knock her bouncer over every time Sookie and Bill rolled around naked in blood. What? She didn’t know what it was. She was a baby, though an admittedly clever one. I don’t think the fake cell phone fooled Grace past the age of six months. She’d just toss it aside and reach for Gail’s obviously more interesting toy.

Now, don’t misunderstand my affection for Gail’s daughter. I am not rewriting history with an easily pacified, giggling baby. Grace was beautiful, innocent, and growled at her toys…, but I don’t know that I’ve ever come across such a demanding child as that one. I think a lot of things played a part in this, one being that Gail was unemployed for much of those first months. There was always someone to hold Grace, entertain her, and respond to her high-pitched falcon screech. Naturally, she was quite the entitled little thing.

At Gail’s apartment, on the phone with my Gramma.
Gramma: “Is that the baby?!?! What are you two doing to the poor thing?!?!”
Me: “She’s fine, Gramma. Seriously. She’s been fed, changed, and there aren’t even any tears. She’s just yelling, because she wants Gail to hold her all the time.”
Gramma: “Well, pick her up, then!!!!”
Me: “Gramma, she’s not my kid. Gail wants her to get used to not being held constantly.”

Oh, how I wish we’d just held her constantly.

Regardless of Gail’s efforts to wean her of this habit, the day Gail finally had to leave Grace at daycare, she falcon-screeched so long that they had to rotate her to different rooms, because the teachers couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t blame them.

:: Hanging out with Gail and a screaming-without-tears Grace ::
Me: “Grace, you have got quite the set of little lungs, don’t you?”
Gail: “I can put her in the other room if it’s bothering you.”
Me: “No, that’s alright. She’s fine.”
:: three minutes later ::
Me: “Actually, could you?”


Grace.

Despite her vocal range, though… Grace was precious. She was entirely portable, so we took her everywhere, constantly talking to her and playing with her. The lady at the barbecue place had even begun to recognize her. I suppose, that since Gail and I had lost touch for a year and a half after high school, Grace was the ultimate test, particularly when I miscarried. She was just a couple of months old and I had a bit of trouble being around an infant. If anything, though, Grace brought Gail and I closer; like on the night Gail called me at 1:00 in the morning. She had taken Grace to spend the night with her ex-husband Shane, only to get a call that her baby falcon just wouldn’t stop screaming. I was just starting my student teaching and had to be up early, but I knew Gail wouldn’t call without reason.

Gail: “Can you just keep me awake while I drive out there? I’m so tired.”

We chatted for a bit and hung up when she told me she was there. The phone rang again, just a moment later.

Gail: “I forgot the car seat. I have to go back and get it and Shane’s yelling at me to just take her anyway.”

Britney Spears drives with baby Sean

… but Britney did it!!!

Gail being Gail, she was an intensely paranoid mom. If Grace sneezed three times, we were in the ER and I do mean “we.” If Gail wanted company and I was free, I was there. So it was, with my second or third trip to the ER, Gail officially dubbed me “Aunt Belle.” Grace had been sick for over a week. It was just a cold, but now she had a high fever. We knew she’d be fine, but they sent us home… and she only got worse. A few nights later, Gail called me late to ask for a ride back to the ER, since her Bonneville wasn’t reliable. When I got to her apartment, though, she told me that the nurse she spoke to said they’d just send her home again, despite the 104 degree fever. We briefly considered taking her to the children’s hospital in the city, but we’d be taking a sick baby into the cold, the hospital was far away, and we both had to be up early. Besides, Grace would be fine. The doctors weren’t even concerned.

Two days later, Gail and I had dinner out with Grace. We laughed at the weird cry she was making, assuming it was a side effect of the medication. That night she lost consciousness and would never awaken. She was dying and we had laughed.

Apparently, a cold had turned into undiagnosed pneumonia, which had turned into bacterial meningitis. I visited the children’s hospital two or three times over the next week. Shane caused drama, over Gail’s refusal to hug him, over her boyfriend Cam wanting to see the baby he’d also loved, probably over the flavor of Gatorade in the vending machine. Gail’s parents, sister, and grandparents wept and prayed. Gail slept beside Grace’s hospital crib. We all waited for news of how this would affect Grace in the long run and when Gail would be able to take her home.

I had intended to buy Grace a learning toy for Valentine’s Day. An education major, I wanted something that would help her grow intellectually. Not knowing what she’d be capable of after she got well, however, I bought her an infant stuffed giraffe that played music. I hated that it had the words “press here” embroidered on it and only managed to remove half of it with a seam ripper, when Gail called.

“If you want to see her again, you should probably get up here soon.”


Toughest drive ever.

“You have to have faith. Miracles happen all the time.” – Everyone

The intentions in the above statement are good. Maybe that’s why the entire world shared some version of it. A baby’s life, however, does not hang in the balance of how hard I pray, how much I cry, whether or not Gail kept a constant vigil at her unconscious daughter’s side or convinced herself that she’d be taking her little girl home soon. God has a plan and if that plan is to take someone you love, there is nothing to be done about it. Trying to convince a mother otherwise is unintentionally cruel. Gail and I, being Gail and I, realized this even then.

Me: “She’s really going to die, isn’t she?”
Gail: “She’s already gone. That’s not my little girl anymore. Everyone keeps telling me to have faith, that a miracle will happen. I just want to say ‘fuck you.’ My daughter isn’t dying, because I don’t believe in God enough.”
Me: “This really sucks… and you kind of smell.”
Gail: :: snort of laughter :: “I don’t actually remember the last time I took a shower.”
:: we both realize it’s snowing outside her window ::
Me: “She’s never seen snow.”
Gail: “I know.”

On February 13,  2010, I got the text message.

Gail: It’s over.
Me: Do you want me to give people your parents’ address for flowers?
Gail: We have plenty of flowers. I’d rather they donate the money to research of some kind.
Me: Okay.
Gail: Thanks for not saying the stupid things you’re supposed to say.

Over the next few days, I didn’t hear from Gail much. She texted once about how she finally understood the reason behind flowers at a funeral: they give you something to talk about, other than the obvious. Grace’s organs were donated on Valentine’s Day and Gail informed me that her heart, intestines, and liver had gone to two other babies.

:: months later ::
Gail: “I don’t think I’d undo it if I could. As much as I want her back, if her death meant the lives of two other babies, I don’t think I could trade that.”

She’s so much less selfish than I.

I texted more than once, asking for verification that Gail hadn’t killed herself. I didn’t realize that she thought I was telling a morbid joke, which, admittedly, wouldn’t be entirely out of character. She’d forgotten the time we went to lunch with Cam and she told us about a special she’d seen, over parents who’d lost their children. She didn’t think she could ever survive that and I wasn’t sure what that meant.

Gail and I, being Gail and I, most of the “concerned” messages came to me. Some of our friends from high school, with whom Gail had been close, were legitimately concerned. Malik told off Shane, in a way that made my comment about how if we could manage not to hit him, he could manage not to hit Cam, look like kitten kisses. The others, whom neither of us had seen in a few years, were shocked. They were worried. They wanted to know what they could do to help. I refrained from sarcastically asking if they had powers of resurrection. I was just so tired of the rest of the messages. The girl who had a screaming fight with me in our eleventh grade algebra class was just sooo sorry. If we ever needed anything, we were to let her know. Oh, by the way… “what happened?” Gail and I still joke about asking her for a casserole. Outside of a catty remark, I don’t think she ever spoke to Gail in four years. The friend of a friend, who was always nasty to both Gail and I, was soooo crushed and would see Gail at the funeral. Oh, by the way… “what happened?” Nothing infuriated me quite like them turning my shattered best friend into post-high school gossip: The Girl Whose Baby Died.

I was the only non-family member Gail let add anything to the tiny pink casket. The aforementioned barbecue place gives away their logo cups for free. In addition to the Valentine’s gift I’d given her (which Gail added), I tried to put one in Grace’s casket, without looking at her body. I missed and it rolled underneath. I ended up having to crawl around to retrieve it, holding up the line. Sigh. That’s not supposed to happen at a funeral.

I cried in my Gramma’s arms. My mom got angry that I chose my Gramma’s arms.

no wire hangers
There are apparently no wire hangers allowed at a funeral.

The program specifically stated that only immediate family was welcome at the graveside. I asked if Gail wanted me there and she said no. I took no offense and didn’t go. Everyone else, however, did. Later, Gail told me that they all stood there, watching, and when she got up and walked away, to wait for them all to leave, they looked at her like “That’s it?”

Gail: “Go fuck yourself. I want to say goodbye to my daughter in peace.”

She, of course, never said that… to them. Apparently, she was a disappointing show. She didn’t shed a single tear and had just stared catatonically at nothing. I received no response when I hugged her and told her I loved her. I don’t know what was worse, laying Grace to rest, or watching Gail go through that… or rather, check out of that. I gave her some Ramen noodles, because they’d take longer to go bad than the casseroles she’d surely be getting. I couldn’t afford any more and included a note telling her that I’d never be able to say the right thing at the right time, but I’d be available when she wanted someone to treat her normally and make inappropriate jokes to take her mind off the pain. I thought I wouldn’t see her for months, an idea that broke my heart after the loss of Grace. Apparently, however, being treated like glass got old fast.

When Gail and I hung out, during the next year, sometimes we talked about Grace and sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes, in the middle of an outing, Gail would tell me she needed to go home, that it was a bad day. She developed severe memory problems and people became tired of her flaking out on them. To this day, I regularly remind her when we have plans. Gail even handled the question “Where’s the baby, today?”, from the waitress at the barbecue place, with… well awkwardness, but she didn’t burst into tears.

“Wow. She’s doing really well.” – Everyone

No matter who dies, there is only so much time that can be spent rocking in a corner, chewing on your own hair. Bills have to be paid. Food has to be bought. You don’t go on with life, because you’re “doing really well.” You go on with life, because there is no other choice. When Gail received notice that she was going to be evicted, everyone thought it was cruel. We both acknowledged, though, that the world does not stop turning, just because yours falls apart. Businesses must still function, even if Gail’s mom found her crying in a heap, where Grace’s crib used to be. Showing surprise that someone’s doing so well implies that they really shouldn’t be.

Gail: “I love when people say that. I want to be like ‘Yeah, there’s lots of polka dancing.'”

Grace died four years ago, today. She was 8 months, 5 days, and 15 minutes old. She never had her Valentine’s Day or an Easter. She never drew a picture or ate dog food or shoved a bully at school. She’ll never have a fight with her mom, a first period, a heartbreak. She’s truly, physically, gone. At first, it was all that filled my head and certainly more-so for Gail. Time went on, though, and I’d realize, that I didn’t think about Grace at all the previous day. More time passed, and then I’d think ‘Wow. How long has it been since I thought about Grace?’ Then I’d feel horrible, because I forgot Grace. At the same time, I’m occasionally shocked at how much it still hurts, being without her. I don’t want to tell anyone, because she wasn’t my kid. She wasn’t even related to me by blood. Maybe I should stop being so dramatic and trying to make this tragedy about me. I’ve even told Gail as much.

Gail: “You were a part of her life more than anyone outside of my immediate family. We joked about you being her dad for a reason. You’re absolutely inclined to feel the way you feel.”

Mostly, I deflect feelings with morbid humor.

Gail: “I wish she’d just been deaf. It would have been just enough to keep Shane from wanting to deal with the hassle, but not enough to keep her from living a life.”
Me: “Yeah. We’d both know ASL ….and that would look great on a resume. Damn it, Gail!”

Emotions go with the last friggin’ horcrux, y’all.

horcrux cave
Right here.

There’s so much guilt in Grace’s death. Gail and I desperately wish we’d taken her to the children’s hospital that night. We blame the local hospital for falsifying records, claiming Grace was smiling and laughing, when Gail tried to pursue a lawsuit. Her parents blame themselves for leaving 22-year-old Gail to care for an infant alone, wanting her to stand on her own two feet. We all blame Shane for being a soulless prick. There is no fault, though. It was God’s plan. It led us here… and here is usually pretty good.

You see, A World Without Grace was supposed to be bleak and filled with sadness, something from a dystopian young adult novel or a Tim Burton movie. On rare occasion, it is. Christmas morning, Gail sent me a text, referring to my miscarriage and Grace…

Gail: “Our children would’ve been up for hours, already.”

She still gets frustrated, when she runs into someone who used to sit at our lunch table, and they fumble around more awkwardly than is normal of post-high school run-ins.

Gail: “Can’t you just not mention it? How about we just pretend that I’m not The Girl Whose Baby Died and you tell me about your life? I want to hear about your boyfriend and work, just like everyone else. I’m not going to burst into tears if you ask about mine!”

I’ve repeatedly suggested telling half of the people at our reunion that Gail had a mental break and doesn’t realize her baby’s dead, while telling the other half that I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, creating the most confusing gossip ever.


That’ll teach ’em.

Most days, though? Life is really good. The New Year’s Eve, when we rented a motel room and took a taxi to the casino, Gail and I commented on how that wouldn’t be possible if I’d had the baby and Grace had survived. Gail wouldn’t have met Terry, because, hopefully, someone with a toddler would be a bit more careful about fucking a trucker off Craigslist. Just as I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my master’s degree and become a librarian, if I had had my baby; Gail wouldn’t be able to work for the post office, if she had a four-year-old. Two babies, who might’ve lived after transplants, almost certainly would’ve died.

Today, my heart is breaking for the four-year-old that’s not in my life. I’m swearing I’ll never have children and trying not to think about the three-year-old I would have, had things worked out differently. I fucking hate Valentine’s Day, because everyone else is happy right now or bitching over trivial crap, like not having someone to buy them flowers that are just going to die. I can’t get the picture of a catatonic Gail and a baby pink casket out of my head.

… but in six months, Gail and I will be drinking chick beer in my living room floor, giggling about my online dating disasters and her mother’s desperation to get her married off to Terry, as soon as possible. We may comment on how the world would be so different had our prayers been answered. We also may not… because for better or for worse, God intended we live in A World Without Grace.

gail convo 02-11-14

 

Original post date: February 13, 2014

How You’re Empowering NO ONE

I don’t call myself a feminist. I don’t call myself anything. I just don’t think that respecting other people’s decisions and hoping for the same needs a title, especially not one with such vastly different definitions… most notably, it seems, ones that completely contradict this statement. Gaily, now… Gaily loves the word “feminist.” Gaily has a tramp stamp of the word feminist. The semester she took a women’s study course, I wanted to push her out of her ’97 Bonneville… but that’s because she was insufferable, not because she was wrong. See, Gail! I SAY NICE THINGS!

Gail sees feminism as an expression of female empowerment to truly do whatever we want in life… only with a lot more words, citations, and angry ranting.

As much as I provoke her, though, we do generally agree on this topic. I’m down with her definition and the many people who share it. I am not, however, down with the ACLU’s definition that I can’t have a dissenting political opinion without discriminating against women.* I’m not down with Wendy Luhabe’s claim that it’s empowering to stay-at-home moms to suggest their contribution is worth exactly 10% of their husband’s earnings and every family needs to follow the same financial model.* I’m not down with the gals who think LEGO is anti-women for creating gender specific toys*. I’m not down with a lot of “empowering” statements made in the name of misguided, so-called feminists. For instance:

Educating women on keeping themselves safe is not vicitim blaming.

If you keep up with current events at all, I’m sure you’ve read about the nail polish that was created to prevent date rape. Pretty simply, the polish will change color when it meets a laced drink, warning the wearer not to sip. That’s great, right?!? No. Apparently, not. According to some, this effort is completely misguided. In fact, one activist responds to this development by stating that “we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.”* Waaaait, a minute. Did you just tell me that it’s anti-woman to protect myself? We prepare men to defend themselves all the time, usually starting with some kind of exotic personal combat lessons at age 4. Teaching a man how to ward off a bully or a mugger is commonplace, but women? Noooo. We should use passive, ladylike if you will, methods to teach people not to attack, instead of taking our fate and safety into our own hands. Women have been taken advantage of, as the generally physically weaker sex, since the beginning of time. FINALLY, someone has stumbled upon the brilliant idea to ask that bad guys just not be bad anymore.

Victim blaming is a disgusting tactic. Telling your teenage daughter that she shouldn’t have been alone in that boy’s dorm room, as she sits on the exam table crying, is horrible and you should have your mommy card revoked. There, however, is nothing wrong with a freshman orientation that warns young women about being in dorm rooms alone with strange men. Encouraging women to take self-defense classes, carry pepper spray, use a gun, wear detective nail polish, is no different than teaching a man to prepare and protect himself. You are not moving us forward or building us up by fighting these things. You are weakening us, by teaching us to put the responsibility for our safety on others, male or female. Yes, it is important to teach young men that no means no, but why can’t this be done alongside a discussion about watching your drink and not walking home alone? Can we not both empower men and women? Did I wake up in 1954 where only the boys get to take karate lessons? Are you fucking kidding me?!?! 

It is not empowering to tell me that my vagina makes me easily susceptible to brainwashing.

Recently Mayim Bialik posted an article about why she hated Disney’s Frozen.* To sum things up, she felt it wasn’t as feminist as people claimed, because there was a love story and that it was even guilty of man-bashing, because the villain is male.* This is hardly the first anyone’s ever heard of the irrevocable harm of Disney Princess movies. It seems every mommy blog has an opinion on the subject. That’s not all, though. Little girls are also in danger from Barbie, LEGO, and shirts from The Children’s placePsychology Today even published an article about the damaging effects of the Twilight Saga. As a society, Americans are just petrified of the influence our female children are getting from the entertainment industry.

Hold on, just one second…

he man

liono ninjaturtles goliath_gargoyles_by_jrmcleod-d5hpkiz

There. I’d like to introduce you to the men of my childhood. Up top, there’s He-Man. Next, Lion-O. Then, of course, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello (not pictured: Leonardo). Finally, Goliath. Did you, perchance, notice any commonalities here? Yes, yes, indeed, I think there might be one. What could it be…? Oh, there it is! Even the gargoyle looks like he’s got roid rage! Do we care? Are there any Time magazine articles on the dangers of 80’s cartoons on male body image? No. I’d love to say that the reason is because we’ve found other, more admirable traits, in these characters. They’re heroes, y’all! Who cares what they look like, when they inspire our boys to want to save the world?!?! But the same can be said for Barbie’s career success, Cinderella’s work ethic, Bella Swan’s literary fascination. So… what’s the difference? Why, we’re women, of course. Our fragile pink brain matter is just so susceptible to the negative influences of toys, that we need a national boycott against LEGO.

Let’s not stop with toys and movies, though. Nope. According to the National Organization for Women, “persistent stereotypes that steer women and men toward different education, training and career paths” are a true threat to our livelihood in general. They’re actually the entire reason I make less money than a petroleum engineer! I haven’t favored care giving careers my entire life, such as when I wanted to be a nurse, a teacher, and finally a librarian, because of my choices and individual personality. It’s because I’m weak-minded and was busy doing my nails, reading Teen Beat magazine, and desperately trying to work up the courage to ask Danny to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. Gail didn’t choose not to go to college, because she didn’t want loans with no clear career path. It’s because she was never told that she could be a paleontologist or a computer engineer.

paleontologist barbie

computer software engineer barbie

Hmmm…

Even when presented with the statistical facts that the wage gap is closer to 5 cents on the dollar than their reported 21, NOW is there to remind me that I’m not really in control of my own destiny, because I’m a woman. Wow. I feel so empowered. Maybe, Barbie is just a doll. Maybe, Repunzel is just a story. Maybe, some women want to be stay-at-home moms, or nurses, or dare I say… librarians. Maybe, if your daughter is getting the wrong ideas from Disney movies, Barbies, and our society as a whole, you just need to spend more time with your daughter.

My political opinions are not anti-woman, just because you disagree.

You can disagree with my libertarian, pro-life stance. We can even still be friends. We all have different values and opinions and that’s fine. That goes both ways, though. You cannot insist that, because I don’t think the government should regulate healthcare, I want to hold women back by refusing to pay for their birth control and abortions. If you’d ask before making these assumptions, you’d realize that I’m just as against paying for teeth cleanings, back surgeries, and biopsies for anyone. You cannot tell me that, because I acknowledge that science considers a fetus a completely unique life form, I am anti-woman. My pro-life stance is entirely scientific, not religious, and I resent the implication that I can’t form an opinion without a priest telling me what to believe. I have not quoted scripture on this issue and I will not. My argument is secular. Your disagreement does not equal my sexism or religious intolerance.

Similarly, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, if I believe that a private business, which does not receive any taxpayer dollars, does have the right to discriminate for non-life saving services (baking a cake, printing a t-shirt, hosting a ceremony), it’s because of my church attendance.* It couldn’t possibly be that I don’t think the federal government should be micromanaging private business. There’s no way I’ve considered all angles, like the fact that a car dealership could refuse my service because I’m a woman. Except… I have. Nowhere in the constitution was I granted the right to a car. It’s not there. Nor was I granted acceptance into an all male university or service in a restaurant where someone thinks my dress is too short. If a business employs completely despicable tactics, such as these, I simply do not feel that the U.S. government has the right to play recess monitor.

It’s alright if you disagree with me on these issues. I’m not looking for a political debate. Your insistence that I have, once again, been brainwashed by men or faith… that I have no right to my own opinion without joining some kind of war on women, though, is offensive. No matter how vehemently you disagree, you cannot decide what my motivations are or insist that I just haven’t thought these issues through. I am a strong and intelligent person and refusing to acknowledge that and my right to my own mind is not empowering.

In short, I am not opposed to the word “feminist.” I am simply opposed to anyone who tries to “empower” women by telling them how to live and think, while calling it feminism. It is not empowering to tell women to leave their protection up to someone else. It is not strengthening the female cause to declare that little girls can’t play with gender specific toys without their fragile minds crumbling to the influence of a patriarchal society. It is not building anyone up to insist that any woman who disagrees with your political viewpoint is the victim of male mind control. Perhaps, instead of tearing each other down for our self-defense classes, Cinderella obsessions, or voter registration cards, we should work on building each other up… you know, empowering.

https://www.aclu.org/using-religion-discriminate

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/13/living/mothers-salary-wendy-luhabe/

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/09/lego-friends-triples-sales-to-girls-despite-feminist-critique/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/26/students-develop-nail-polish-to-detect-date-rape-drugs/

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/08/25/3475190/date-rape-nail-polish/

http://www.kveller.com/mayim-bialik/mayim-bialik-why-my-sons-and-i-hate-frozen/

http://www.sparklingadventures.com/index.php?id=667

http://newsfeed.time.com/2014/02/06/barbie-lead-designer-blames-moms-not-dolls-crazy-proportions-for-girls-body-issues/

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/09/lego-friends-triples-sales-to-girls-despite-feminist-critique/

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychologist-the-movies/201111/relationship-violence-in-twilight

http://time.com/3222543/5-feminist-myths-that-will-not-die/

https://www.aclu.org/using-religion-discriminate

Life Without Soulmates

The Saturday before Halloween, I had a night out with a high school friend and some of her pals. The initial plan was to go to the downtown parade, but we ended up at the cowboy club instead. Halloween at the cowboy club was not my intention. Ladies, just so you know, when you take those angel wings off, you’re just wearing sequined panties and heels on the dance floor. That’s not a costume. And Gentlemen, the half-assed cat ears I threw on with a homemade “Salem Saberhagen” collar do not suddenly morph “meow” into a sexy come-on. Sigh. I will never be a party girl. So, after said exhausting evening, I looked forward to chilling in my T-shirt and leggings with Ava and her mother, on Halloween night; where we gossiped about boys, while horror movies played in the background.

… and now, I’d like to introduce Ava and Trent.

Everyone has those friends who’ve been together since they were teenagers and have only really dated each other. We love them, because they’re so very happy and that’s awesome. We also hate thembecause even if we found a wonderful partner tomorrow, we’d never share that level of history. Bitches.

My senior year of high school, I shared one class with Ava, as she was a year younger. When she told me there was a job opening at Walgreen’s, where she worked, I applied and accepted the position; and we worked together for the next year. Ava is that girl that I’m always surprised is still in my life. It’s not that she’s not wonderful. Quite the contrary, Ava is such a genuinely sweet person that she has trouble making friends, because they’re all waiting for the catch. I’ve known her for eight years, though. This kitten just has no claws.


Ava

It would be sort of difficult to be a nasty person when your family performed in community theater together. They really are a nauseatingly and adorably functional group. That’s actually part of the reason I’m surprised we’re still close. I’m sort of a bitch. I’m not cruel to my friends or anything. In fact, my loyalty is damned near impossible to match. I just have an abrasive sense of humor and women are rarely receptive to it. For instance, one day in high school, Ava had a rare catty moment, when a girl she didn’t like was mentioned in conversation. She went on and on about how fake and grating this person was, including doing an impersonation. It was dead-on, too, because the girl in question truly was irritatingly false. Only when she finished her rant, did I bother to catch my breath from laughing, to inform Ava that the girl’s boyfriend was sitting right next to her. She was mortified. It was fantastic.

Regardless of our differences in personality and background, we just mesh. I get along great with Trent, as well, having known him in middle school during his chubby, talkative phase. Today, he’s the one who will assist me in prank texting Ava’s mom that they’re expecting twins. He’s a good guy and, most importantly, he’s good to Ava and she’s good to him. I was at their wedding. I celebrated Ava’s last birthday with them. They’re good people and they are as genuinely happy as Ava’s adorable parents. That having been said, it was shocking to hear Ava’s take on soulmates. She doesn’t believe in them.

You see, all around the world, single men and women are looking for “the one.” I suppose this is pretty strictly the developed First World, as everyone else is looking for a meal or less cholera, but you get my point.

Haiti Disease Outbreak
I know she dropped her glass slipper somewhere in here.

Though Ava is an endlessly practical person, I sort of expected her religious background and her experience with Trent and her parent’s relationship to put her firmly on the side of “we were destined”, when it came to the soulmates discussion. I, however, was entirely wrong and her insight was fascinating. Hopped up on candy and sleep deprivation, Ava and I discussed exactly why we don’t believe in soulmates and what the implications for their make-believe status means for relationships.

I really can’t speak for Ava’s lack of conviction in the soulmates smokescreen. I can only assume that she doesn’t believe, because she’s a friggin’ Chemist. Her entire career is rooted in science and practicality. Ain’t no room for unicorns and pixie dust. I am just not a romantic. At all. My lack of belief, is almost always worded the same way:

“Everyone believes in soulmates, until they’re crying in the judge’s office.”

Please. Let me speak at your wedding.

This conversation really got me thinking, though. What does it mean for us, to live in a world without soulmates?

We are not the only influence in this person’s life.

Throughout our lives, we’re growing and developing. Just as I am not the 16-year-old Belle who wore overalls every day of high school, neither will I always be the 26-year-old Belle who watches three episodes of Bewitched and dramatically texts Jane about how she’s going to die alone. Even after I remarry, making (ideally) a lifelong commitment, who I am as a person will shift over time. I, literally, will no longer be the woman my husband married after 25 years. The same will be true for him… and that’s okay. People should grow. We should move forward. Life is fluid.

Scientists say that personality is 50% hereditary and I agree with that. I am just as willful, at 26, as I was at 6 and 16. My opinions, my passions, my belief systems, however, have been shaped by the people and world around me. Yes, I have a mind of my own, but we are all a product of our environment. My marriage to a man, who once tried to blackmail me into getting on food stamps for him, developed many of my political stances on social services. The excruciating experience of losing my baby without any pain medication, at nearly my second trimester, helped form my opinions on socialized healthcare, as I was on state aid at the time. Watching Gail sleep at her dying infant’s side and gazing at a tiny pink casket days later, cemented my faith in Christ. Working with the public has shaped my thoughts on how we treat our elderly in this country. A thousand experiences and dozens of people are creating Belle and the addition of a romantic relationship will not change that.

Sure, when I do find someone, I’ll have an additional voice and more love and care urging me in one direction or another, but I’ll still have Jane, Gail, my Gramma, my dad, my faith, my work experiences, and the media I consume shaping who I am. Similarly, he’ll still have his brothers, his uncles, his mother, and his career moving him on his path. It will take constant effort to make sure those paths regularly intersect, to avoid veering in completely different directions… because we won’t be soulmates. We’ll be two people who found someone, fell in love, and decided to make it work. As a religious gal, I believe there is the magic of Christ in any spiritual union, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need cultivating. That doesn’t mean it can’t become withered and trampled if two people let it.

So, we have to work harder, emotionally;

You come home from work and trip over his boots in the entryway and snap at him to clean up after himself. You head into the kitchen and see that he did not take the trash out, as he said he would, and now the trucks have already run and you’ll have to wait another week. You sarcastically thank him for his contribution. He sees the shopping bags you carried in and comments on how strange it is that you couldn’t afford his fishing license, but apparently had the disposable income for new shoes. The two of you argue over who will fix dinner and spend the night taking care of your own chores or melting into your own media and don’t bother to connect at all, before turning in for the night.

Everyone has bad days. They do. If you’re not destined to be together, however; if there’s no fairytale pull over you, enough of those bad days and your relationship begins to degrade and morph into something less beautiful. You can’t make catty remarks about his belly, nor can he ask if you’re too old to be wearing that, without consequences. His confidence takes a hit. Yours takes a hit. Neither of you feels safe and protected from criticism after years of wearing each other down.

Then, one day, you find another of the millions of people with whom you’re also compatible. Only, this person doesn’t think your sudden passion for Going Green is stupid. He doesn’t think there’s an age limit on hot pink. Unlike his wife, you don’t think his receding hairline should be covered. You both even like Indie movies and Thai food. Though you still love your husband, this man makes you feel better about yourself than your spouse has in years. Pretty soon, your heart is being pulled in two different directions, because you let your bond wilt… and he wasn’t your soulmate. He was just someone to whom you chose to make a commitment. He’s just the man who held your hand, while you brought your babies into the world. He’s just another person with whom you could’ve developed effective communication skills while you built and cherished a life together. Only you didn’t cherish it, because you thought destiny would take care of that.

… and we also have to work harder, physically.

A few years ago, I was talking to my aunts and cousins, at Christmas. I declared that I felt like a person (not a woman, specifically) owes it to their spouse to remain within a certain weight range in relation to what they were when they married. My cousin was horrified and declared that NO, you should love your spouse unconditionally, no matter what they look like. I didn’t say 70 pounds is a valid reason to stop loving someone. It just might, however, be reason enough not to want to see them naked, any longer. I’m not advocating a return to the days where Fred makes jokes about the size of Ethel’s girdle in public. Despite what anyone tells you, however, physical attraction is an important part of a relationship. I understand that a woman’s bones shift during childbirth. Weight displaces and we all earn our battle scars, otherwise known as stretchmarks. Just as he’ll put weight on in the middle, my breasts will dip with each child. That’s fine. Wear your age proudly. I said proudly, though. He shouldn’t wear those pajama pants in Wal-Mart and neither should you, if it’s not something you did when you initially became attracted to one another. Put on some make-up, buy a flattering blouse, and actually try, every now and then, whether you’re 28 or 48. Hopefully he’ll throw on a button-up and some nice jeans, once in awhile, too. 

In regards to weight? I don’t know why this should be the exception to keeping the attraction alive. Maybe it’s because we’re in an obesity epidemic and damn near everyone has put on a good 50 pounds since the wedding day. Fifty pounds on my 5’5′ frame, though, completely changes the way I look. I know. I once weighed 260. Furthermore, when I was so overweight, there were many things I couldn’t do, from sexual positions to taking the stairs. Unlike wearing those pajama pants in public, weight affects both physical attraction and quality of life. I think it’s fair to set some limits. I’m not saying it’s good enough reason to leave your marriage, but it is one of those things that adds up over time. When coupled with a tendency to bitch at her, constantly complain about money, and never wanting to leave the house, that 80 pounds and those pajama bottoms can really kill the spark. The same goes for that 60 pounds and oversized t-shirt.

… because love is conditional.

Seriously, Disney won’t even let me in the park, after typing that. I am not talking about the love I have for my dog, my Gramma, my daddy, or my Gail, here. That’s a different discussion. What I’m talking about is the idea being sold to me by Nicholas Sparks, that there is nothing I can do to make a man who loves me turn away from me, and vice versa. Don’t get me wrong. It works beautifully in a country song, but it’s just not a reasonable expectation.

Me: “What if she sleeps with your bother?”
Jay: “I would never marry someone who would do that.”
Me: “That’s not what I asked. What if she does?”
Jay: “She wouldn’t…. and he wouldn’t.”
Me: “Which proves my point. If you’re not even willing to consider the possibility that someone could tear you apart like that, then clearly, it’d be a deal breaker.”

No seriously. Let me speak at your wedding.

The idea of a one for us, or a soulmate, is actually super appealing. They’re huge in paranormal romance. In fact, many of those characters have nothing in common and often start out hating each other, and no one cares, because they must love each other. It’s a biological law. I, however, am not half Greek princess and fortunate enough to stumble upon a super hot descendant of Heracles, who has been cursed by the Goddess Hera.

marked
I could probably make this shit up if I tried. There’s just no need.

There is no magic that says a man is compelled to love me. Just as my love for my ex-husband withered and died with every item he stole from me, every job he fabricated, I understand that I can, absolutely, turn my next significant other away from me with similar acts. This ain’t a fairytale. If we don’t treat each other well, there are other people who will. If we don’t put in a genuine effort to communicate, there are are other people who might. If we don’t try to appeal to each other sexually, there’s an entire friggin’ industry dedicated to filling that gap. Just as we can’t take our friendships for granted and expect them to thrive, we can’t treat our romantic relationships as a given. Whatever magical or Godly aspect there may be in a marital bond, we still have to care for it, because that is life without soulmates. 

If I’d Prayed a Little Harder… : Society’s Take on My Divorce

Once again, social networking is focusing on this country’s marriage crisis. Remember these?

marriage 2

marriage good old days

no divorce again

What about these?

Your ONLY marriage? Why didn’t I think of that?

Toasters, Marriage, and the Good Ol’ Days

Divorce is not an option… you know… until it is.

Those were the products of the last time I was set off by social media’s snide little remarks on divorce. This time, however, my issue isn’t even the blog post I read. I understand that it came from a good place and that it included a beautiful message: marriage is about giving to each other, one hundred percent… with lots of Jesus undertones. Neither of these concepts bother me. I am a practicing Catholic. I dream of the day I can sit next to a man during Mass. If said man even wants to nix the birth control, I am legitimately okay with that.

What I have a problem with, is that every single uplifting marriage/put-an-end-to-divorce article I read includes a statement that goes a little something like this:

The more you love your spouse, the more they’ll love you in return.

That’s paraphrased, because I’m not trying to attack one article. I’m attacking the approach that’s being taken to the issue of divorce in this society, where everyone is forgetting that you cannot change another person, no matter how great your hugs or how fervent your prayers might be. He has free will… and sometimes that makes him a sociopath. That is just fact. Why is it that we can’t support each other without implying that anyone who ended a marriage just didn’t love hard enough or pray hard enough? After all, when someone frets over how willy nilly we’ve become about divorce, they are referring to we willy nilly divorcees. Worse, it always seems these declarations come from people who have been married for all of four months or, in some cases, not at all. Do me a favor. If you have not cleaned up your spouse’s vomit, held him through the death of a parent, watched her shit during childbirth, prayed through a miscarriage, buried a child, scraped together the money for the rent during an unemployment streak, rebuilt trust after cheating, or any of the other heartbreaking and trying things that come with marriage… then can you please take that well-intended advice and shove it up your ass?!?! That is, of course, if there’s any room left with your head all the way up there.

Think of 10 people who are divorced. Go ahead. I’m sure you can. It’s a freaking epidemic. Now, think of how many that you know, without a doubt, left for frivolous reasons. I get that the media is full of 72 day marriages and your aunt’s third cousins just woke up and decided they didn’t feel like being married anymore, but do you have any idea how rare that is? What about how hard that is to prove? Despite what my current Facebook feed might have me believe, there are still some people out there who keep their private affairs, oh, you know… private. It might look like she left because he wasn’t making enough money for her expensive tastes, but you have zero irrefutable evidence that she’s not covering up bruises with that cashmere sweater. As Gail mentioned earlier, no one attributes the rising divorce rates to the increase in mental illness or domestic violence. Everyone just assumes it’s boredom, with no verifiable facts. Regardless of the situation, being trapped in a bad marriage is like looking into an empty refrigerator for the tenth time in a night. It doesn’t matter how hungry you are or how desperately you need sustenance; it’s still empty. That was literal in my case. What was for dinner, in the summer of 2010? Tears. Tears were for dinner. 

empty fridge
My wedding portrait.

Just as it’s no one else’s business if parents spank their child, it’s no person’s business, but Man and Wife, if they decide to untie that knot. In fact, I’d dare say it’s less of anyone else’s concern, in a childless marriage. At least the children being spanked are the concern of society at the point in which their safety becomes an issue. My divorce, though? My divorce did not affect anyone but myself and my ex-husband, who was likely too busy chewing the legs off kittens to care, anyway. I don’t owe society an explanation (though it already exists within this blog). Now that I’ve received absolution from the Church, I don’t owe anyone an explanation. That’s right. By my personal faith, God is cool with the dissolution of my marriage.

fistbump with god

So society can suck it. How dare anyone make me feel like less of a Christian, a woman, a member of society for escaping abuse? You know what, though? I’ve been divorced for nearly three years. It’s been months weeks since I last cuddled my gun and cried about how he broke me. I can mostly handle the judgement without breaking. However, how dare anyone make a presently frightened, lonely, and hurt woman feel like less for wanting to escape abuse? The assumption that she’s lazy and disrespects the union of marriage does her a huge disservice in a time of great need.

I’d like to think that these aforementioned articles and memes are just being read by other couples, happily married for 7 weeks, who are too busy patting themselves on the back to recognize this subtext, but that’s just not true. We are in a technological age, and when we need information, be it the location of the nearest yarn store, whether or not Benjamin Franklin was a president (SHUT-UP, GAIL!), how to fill out a W-4, or if Christ will forsake us for leaving a toxic marriage, we turn to the internet. As someone who once Googled “Catholicism and divorce”, I can attest to the fact that there is a man out there who needs to leave, for the goodness of his soul, reading that he’s at fault for the black eye he blamed on his two-year-old, because he doesn’t love hard enough. He’s not right with the Lord.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the divorce rate in this country isn’t a problem. There are all sorts of statistics out there on how damaging a divorce is to the children in a marriage. There’s a .357 in my bed declaring how damaging it is to the individual. I do, however, disagree with acting as though a rancid marriage to a soulless bastard can be fixed with an extra Glory Be. I truly do not think that was the intent of the blog I read, today. But, if you looked closely, it’s exactly what the author claimed happened when his wife stuck by his side. He eventually turned things around, because she loved him enough. No. He turned things around, because he was a good person. Rather than focusing on how love can repair someone with free will, how about we focus a little more on choosing someone less toxic in the first place? Rather than posting memes about how you want your first marriage to be your only marriage…

Who freaking doesn’t?!?!?

Ahem…

… or about how the reason your marriage lasted was because you wanted it badly enough

Bite me.

Ahem…

… perhaps it would be more helpful to discuss how you chose a partner who could be your only partner. I’d really like to know the secret to immortality, because you’ll apparently never remarry as a widow. Okay. Seriously. I mean it this time. Instead of making patronizing and vague comments about how you “fixed” your marriage, tell everyone how you found someone who was willing to go through the repair process with you. You see, I actually considered marriage counseling. I really did. I just quickly realized that it wouldn’t work unless he was willing to stop lying, stealing, abusing the dog, and fabricating employment… and he wasn’t going to do that… because I couldn’t control him.

I am not just talking about the way we talk about marriage with adults. I grew up in a very religious town, where they’ve never heard of Separation of Church and State. Sixth through twelfth grade, I sat through at least 15 abstinence seminars. What if, instead of setting goals that are proven to be nearly unattainable for the average American teenager, they’d given us some information on choosing a partner, when we were ready? How about telling us some divorce statistics based on age of first marriage, while some shattered 23-year-old divorcees cried at a podium? I’m not saying it would be a guaranteed success. Teenagers are stubborn. Many will do exactly as they wish, because they are the exception to the rule… but a few may not. Why not educate them?What if society loses the assumption that every marriage can be fixed and replaces it with the idea that we should start dating with marriage in mind, rather than dating with the idea that marriage is a next step, regardless of compatibility? What if it didn’t take 48 hours to get a marriage license? What if we didn’t let children marry at 18? What if we stopped basing our view of lifelong, monogamous love on these ridiculous Nicholas Sparks books; where complete opposites, with different goals, who treat each other poorly, fall in love and spend their lives fighting over meaningless crap, without it chipping away at their relationship? What if we treat the source of the problem, rather than starting in the middle of a sickness and assuming that the cure is the same, regardless of ailment? Perhaps, if someone had given me more guidance in my choice, and I hadn’t wept on my wedding night, I wouldn’t have eventually wept the words “If I’d been a better wife, he’d have been a better husband.” Perhaps, though, I wouldn’t have done so if there weren’t so many people telling me that.

Tears, Giggles, and an Urn

Me: “I don’t know. I never actually watch porn. I only ever watch pornographic GIFs. You never see any faces and just have a repeat of the good part. I don’t need a story or anything. I usually have one in my head already. He’s a werewolf… she’s a woodnymph. It’s just best not to mess with it.”
Gail: “What is wrong with you?”

Gail: “I didn’t think they were legally allowed to sell vibrators in CVS.”
Me: “It’s not a vibrator. It’s a ‘personal massager’, you pervert.”
Gail: laughingly “I apologize. I didn’t mean to offend.”
Me: “Oh, hey! I was right. It does say ‘personal massager’… and it’s ‘perfectly contoured for the female form.’ Thirty dollars?!? Mine was only thirty-four and it’s a lot better ‘contoured for the female form’!”
Gail: “Ahhh, Belle. You will just say anything won’t you?”
Belle: “What? No one heard me.”

Sunday, it was just after these conversations, that I was lying on the couch reading the train wreck that is the This Man triliogy, marveling at how trapping a woman with an underhanded pregnancy isn’t considered abusive, but sexy, when my Dirty Girl Novel was interrupted with the following text from my Aunt Dee:

Do you think you could do a reading at grandpa’s funeral? I was thinking you and Mickey both. Both granddaughters and both good Catholics. Gramps was so proud of you.

I responded without the use of the word “irony”, proof that I can control myself and just choose not to do so, Gail. I told Aunt Dee to just let me know what passage so I could practice. Now… how much did I not want to speak at my grandpa’s funeral as a “good Catholic girl”?

thiiis much
Thiiiiis much.

I hate ceremonies. It’s a whopping generalization, but they’re all awful… and here’s why:

Weddings: usually an expression of financial irresponsibility. A couple goes into a marriage, either in debt, or just down a couple of tens of thousands of dollars over a party that no one really wanted to go to anyway. I was bored at my first wedding and I’m sure I’ll be bored at the next one, between the dry heaves and shouts of “maccarroni!” which Gail will have forgotten is our codeword for “I’m freaking out and why the fuck am I doing this again?!?!”

Graduation ceremonies: too fucking long and made up of overly generic speeches. At my graduation for my Master in Library and Information Studies, the speaker made repeated references to how it was “only a few short years ago that we were moving into our dorms.” Psh. It was only a few short years ago that I was drinking myself to sleep to take my mind off of my wretched marriage. I can guaran-damn-tee the forty-something woman next to me didn’t relate to the statement, either. The ceremony was also held inside a kiln and I sweated for two hours just for someone to call my name. There’s not even any actual requirement that you prove your right to graduate. They will, literally, let anyone walk.

everclear
What?!? It’s practically Ambien.

Funerals: Funerals just fucking suck. Everyone’s sad and the last place they want to be is standing outside in July, wearing tummy tucker panties and heels.

bridget jones granny panties
Ahhh, comfort clothes.

Also… I make everything awkward and a funeral is just not the place for that. In fact, the entire drive to the church, I kept thinking…

Is this dress too sexy? Do I look like I’m going clubbing after the funeral? 

I was pretty certain I was wearing a Magic Dress: a dress that can look equally professional or sex kitten based on accessories. I wore my interview heels, but had I been in the knee-high black heeled leather boots, I’d have looked rave-bound and I knew it. I just wasn’t sure about the heels and dreaded the whispers of “Can you believe she wore that?” Fortunately, Bea made a similar comment about her own simple black dress and told me mine looked great the second she saw me.

This uncertainty, however, is precisely why I didn’t want to do the aforementioned reading. I got to the chapel about fifteen minutes early and a woman in a glowing green suit jacket took me to the front, showed me a binder and instructed me to put it on the table to the left when I was done. She pointed out the steps to the podium, which were danged near invisible. I already knew I was doing the second reading and had gone over it the night before to avoid the mispronunciation of anything.

Okay. Don’t trip. Don’t forget to move the binder. I can do that.

The Mass started and my cousin Mickey immediately went up for the first reading. I did not hear one word she said, however. It was at that point, after the procession and drama and melancholy had set in, that I realized… I had no idea when I was reading. I had no Mass sheet and found I couldn’t remember the typical order and wasn’t sure how funeral Masses differentiated. My Aunt Dee was seated in front of me, so I spent the first reading whispering to her about how I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to do mine. Bea sat to my side and tried not to giggle. Mickey was finally seated and I sat with bated breath, just about to rise… then the music started.

Well, I guess it’s not now.

A Catholic Mass is a formal affair. A Catholic funeral is a very formal affair. I discreetly glanced around in hopes of spotting a neon green suit jacket, but had no luck. The music stopped, I was poised to rise… and Father started speaking.

Well, I guess it’s not now.

Father: “Geff was not a complainer or a whiner.”
That’s not true. Grandpa Geff whined about everything and everyone knew it. Why can’t we just remember the man for who he was, flaws and all? How is it respectful to make shit up? ‘Belle will always be remembered as a seven foot tall space cowboy.’ Horseshit. I shouldn’t think ‘horseshit’ in a church. 

Wow. I want to get married in this chapel. This place is gorgeous. 

st. patrick's catholic church

I started thinking about how it would be funny to put little decorative stones in the wall where the angels’ toes would be, so it looked like they were wearing nail polish. I felt bad, because you’re not supposed to think about that at a funeral. Then someone tapped my shoulder and I realized Father was no longer speaking and there was a woman wearing green Christmas lights sitting directly behind me, which explained why I couldn’t find her earlier.

“Are you going to read?”
“Oh! Yeah. I just didn’t know when.”

Bea assures me that the lull did not stretch out for days and everyone thought I was gathering myself, so there was minimal awkwardness in retrospective. She claims.

Then the sad part set in, because funerals suck.

Father: “Geff was a proud veteran.”
Grandpa Geff was a veteran? Why didn’t I know that? How terrible of a person am I for not knowing that? 

Father: “As we all know, Geff knew dogs.”
Grandpa Geff was into dogs? Why didn’t I know that? How terrible of a person am I for not knowing that?
Father: “Having worked for the post office for many years…”
Oh. It was a joke. Grandpa Geff didn’t know dogs. Why didn’t I know that? How terrible of a person am I for not knowing that?

I should have visited him more. I lost five years with dad’s family, because of my mother. I hate her. I shouldn’t think that in a church, during a Catholic Mass. I’m doing this all wrong. I’m failing at a funeral and I hate my mother!

I want to suck my thumb and cry and I don’t want to be in tummy tucker panties. I can’t suck my thumb in public and emotions are gross. Why are we even doing this?!?!

Me: crying and whispering “I hated his Christmas party, every year. No one liked it and a lot of times we never even went. I feel so bad. We didn’t have Christmas with him last year. How awful that we didn’t want to spend any time with him at Christmas?”
Bea: “We had his birthday party, though. That was nice.”
Me: “Yeah.”
Bea: “Oh, my gosh. I thought for an awful moment that maybe you weren’t there.”
Me: snorting and laughing “Nana nana nana.”

Oh, gosh. We shouldn’t laugh during a funeral. We look like we’re having the best time.

Gramma was the same age as Grandpa Geff.
That brought on more tears.
Oh, I’m crying because of the thought that Gramma might die one day, rather than the fact that Grandpa Geff is dead.That is so much worse than reading Lady Porn when I was asked to read a bible verse! I am the worst person! 

Not only is a Catholic Mass a formal affair, it is one fraught with beautiful ritual, as is every Catholic Mass, and attended by many who do not know these rituals. Mass ended with Father raising his hands in prayer.

priest holding out hands

I looked over to see Bea and her brother Cade doing the same… alone. They only lowered their hands when they saw my cousin and me snickering.

Finally, the Mass ended and we made our way to the cemetery. My dad carried Grandpa Geff’s urn, a brass perfect square, in one hand like it was an empty casserole dish.

Cade: “Only Kent would carry an urn with one hand.”
Aunt Kendra: “Kent, I hope that’s sealed.”
Me: “My dad thinks it’s dumb that we have to bury it anyway, so if he drops it, it’s probably not an accident.”
Step-mom Lena: “Don’t joke about that. It’s taken very seriously in the Catholic faith and you might offend someone.”
Dad, Cade, Bea, Aunt Kendra, Me: simultaneous laughter

My step-family is not Catholic, if you haven’t guessed. My step-mom certainly meant well, but no one present would’ve been offended. In fact…

When we arrived at the burial plot, we found the unmarked hole, perfectly carved out for Grandpa Geff’s urn. We piled on his roses and the wreath that read “Grandpa” and gathered round as the sadness set in and everyone got quiet.

“Wait. We’re over there.”

That is right. We almost threw Grandpa Geff in the wrong hole. The hearty laugh we got out of it as a family is precisely why Lena needn’t worry that anyone would be offended by jokes about the redundancy of the Catholic decree that we bury ashes.

Other Shit You Probably Shouldn’t Say at a Funeral

Dad: “..and then father will bless us with the ashes.”
Me: “Okay. Wait! Bless you with the ashes!?!?!

blessing urn
What he meant.
ash wednesday
What he realized I was picturing.

– Debating cremation versus burial –
Bea: “I don’t want to be burned!”
Me: “You can’t feel it. You’re dead.”
Bea: “Hopefully!
Me: “Well, if that’s the case, then I’d rather be burned than wake up.”
Dad: “We’ll just have to make sure to leave a string tied to some bells outside of your grave, Bea. That way you can ring for help when you come to, like in the 1800’s.”

– Driving to the cemetery, my step-mom holding the urn on her lap, everyone waiting for us to bring Grandpa to his final resting place –
Cade: “Ugh. I’m starving. Can we stop for tacos or something? 7-Eleven is giving away free Icees today.”
Me: ::tearing up:: “Wait. He was alone when he died?!?! That’s horrible.”
Step-mom: “Belle, he was alone, but he wasn’t there. He hadn’t been there for days.”
Bea: “Wait, wait, wait! 7-Eleven is giving away free Icees?!?!

My dad gets out of the truck and leaves the urn while he checks to see if we’re in the right place.
Cade: “Kent… I think you forgot something! You didn’t even crack a window.”

– sitting in the back of my dad’s truck with Cade and Bea , while my dad and Lena bury Grandpa Geff –
Bea: “Is my dress see-through? I feel like it’s see-through. Could you see anything in the sunlight?”
Me: “Yeah. You’re practically naked. You’ve got a little toilet paper in your ass crack, by the way”
Bea: “I hate you. It only seems see-through right here.” ::points to space between her legs::
Cade: “I don’t know what’s worse, the heat or this conversation.”
Me: “Yeah. Geez, Bea. ‘Hey, big brother. Can you see my vag?'”
Bea: “I cannot believe you just said that!”
Me: “You’re the one who said it.”
Bea: “I am not!”
Cade: ::groaning:: “Thank you for that, Belle.”

Me: “Ugh. It is a thousand degrees in here. They’re gonna have to bury three more piles of ash if they don’t hurry the hell up.”
Cade: “It would be awesome if the window was open and they could hear you.”

My Grandma Kay has been divorced from Grandpa Geff for near fifty years, but was at the funeral.
Me: “Hey, kid. Did you wish Grandma Kay a happy birthday?”
My cousin Mitch: “What? It’s Grandma’s birthday? Seriously?”
Me: “Yes, seriously. It’s on Facebook, if you don’t believe me. Go tell her happy birthday.”
Dad’s cousin Tina: “Aw. That’s a tough day. We should take her some flowers.”
Me: “Hey, there’s some over there in the chapel.”
Mitch: laughing “We’ll just take her all of the funeral arrangements. She’ll never know.”
Me: “Yeah. Let’s take her the wreath with ‘grandpa’ on it…”
Mitch: “… we’ll just write ‘ma’ over it.”
Tina: trying not to laugh “You guys are horrible!”

I came home and I slept. It was a tough day. I’d have been content to skip it and pretend Grandpa Geff was still alive and that I just never see him. The only consolation is that Grandpa Geff was a devout daily Mass goer. He’d have been thrilled by a traditional Catholic funeral filled with people he loved sharing the occasional laugh. There’s not a whole lot more for which anyone could ask, and if one sucky day fulfills that life goal after a painful battle with cancer… well, at least it’s all over.

Thank God I lost the baby.

pacifier on floor

You’re not supposed to say that. It’s one of those unspoken rules.

One of the worst parts of miscarriage is that other people don’t always consider it a baby. I was starting my second trimester. I had just registered at Baby’s R’ Us. I’d have bet money it was a boy. I had a name all picked out that I have no intention of using now. I was supposed to hear his heartbeat on my 22nd birthday. I didn’t. I have a box full of baby clothes that were never worn. Every now and then, I take out some tiny overalls and have a good cry. It was a baby to me. My ex-husband lost his job days before the bleeding started. I was home alone through most of the pain. It broke my heart.

Another one of the worst things about a miscarriage is everyone high-fiving you over it. I’m not a fan of a particular married-in family member in general, but I’ll never forget when she called after her husband received my text message (not her) to point out all of the perks of my miscarriage.

“Well, maybe this is for the best. You can wait until you’re done with school and you both have jobs to start a family.”
Yeah. It’s for the best that I just passed my baby into the toilet with gut-wrenching pain all alone. FUCK. OFF.

Even the ones who truly meant well (and no, she wasn’t one of them) were relieved. They were kind enough to keep their mouths shut about that fact, but I could hear it in their voices… as sad as they were that I was hurting so much.

The absolute worst part about my miscarriage was that even I was relieved. Even then, a part of me knew the man had burned down our house with all our pets inside. He tied the dog to the wall and left him in his own urine without food or water. Said dog still can’t get through bathtime without my ridiculous and terrible singing to calm him, because my ex would scream and hit him when he bathed him. My ex-husband wouldn’t do the dishes because the dishwasher was pretend broken and wouldn’t take the trash out because it was too far. He once left glass in the floor after the cat broke a dish and didn’t clean it up until after I cut my foot on it. I still have the scar. While I was home losing our child, he insisted on going to a birthday party, because he never got to have fun. Then he cashed in my WIC checks for the free food. Not only did he steal and pawn my things, but he wasn’t allowed in his mother’s or aunt’s homes because he’d stolen from them as well. He’d already pretended to have several jobs and I didn’t see that coming to an end. I didn’t even know how I’d fund my own living expenses, let alone a little one’s. I prayed to God that he’d take it back, that he’d make it not so and I’d wake up not pregnant. I wasn’t ready and he was a terrible person. Then I bled… and bled. I screamed and cried all alone in physical and emotional agony, while laying on a towel to catch the blood. At 12 weeks, they should’ve done a D&C, from what I understand. They didn’t and it just all tore through me naturally… and painfully. With every ripping sensation, I knew it was me, it was my body, that was killing my baby and there was nothing I could do to stop it. There’s nothing like the guilt of asking God to take it all back and having your prayers answered.

Today… I wouldn’t change it. Even if I had been ready to have a baby, had been the person I am now with the morals and priorities I’d want to instill in a child (which I knew I wasn’t then)… I’d never wish him on anyone, especially not a helpless child. Gail regularly wishes she’d never told her ex he was the father of her daughter that died at eight months. She knew he had a sick mind for little girls and would still rather live without her little lady than ever have her experience that pain. I’d rather have lost my baby than come home to glassy eyes and no explanation for his unresponsiveness. I was due March 5, 2010. I’d have had a three-year-old right about now… and he’d have been cursed. I’d rather God have kept him.

You’re not supposed to say that. It’s one of those unspoken rules. Actually, scratch that. It’s one of those spoken rules. But God had a plan. I’m where I’m meant to be… and so is my baby.