Carcinogenic Radioactive Waste and Oranges: Marriage at 19 vs. Marriage at 29

Jake: “So, we’ve been married for four months now, give or take. Do you ever look back and compare it to your first marriage and realize how different it is?”
Me: “Well, honestly, I try not to think about that time in my life, but even if I do, it’s just… apples and oranges. Yes, I was legally married and have never claimed otherwise, but that wasn’t actually a marriage in any way.”

When I was a senior in high school, my mother let my boyfriend move in with us, and a few months later, she took off to live with a man she met on the Internet. Because years earlier, she’d seen to it that I had no relationship with my dad, I didn’t really have anyone else. Sure, my Gramma has always been an amazing presence in my life, but it wasn’t the same as having a parent in the home every day to help me through the huge transition that was the end of childhood. Graduating high school, leaving those friends, going to college: those things are really hard with a supportive and loving family… or so I heard from friends. At 18, though, I felt like I had nothing and no one to hold onto as my mother prepared to sell the house she’d left behind, less than gently pushing me out the door, and my high school boyfriend was… there.

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Looking back on my reasons for getting married at 19, it’s no surprise that said “marriage” deserved air quotes. I don’t know that “apples and oranges” is even a fitting phrase, considering those are both fruit. Being “married” at 19 and married at 29 are more like… carcinogenic radioactive waste and oranges. For instance…

The Wedding Day

At 19, on my “wedding day,” I tried to look five years into the future and determine whether or not I’d still be “married.” I couldn’t picture it, but… I also couldn’t think of any other options. The college I was attending would only let us continue to live in family student housing if we were legally married and I had nowhere else to go… or so I thought. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I could’ve called off the wedding, even the day of, and the rest of my family would’ve supported me. I’d have been able to stay with my Gramma or my dad (who I fortunately reconnected with in time), until a dorm opened up the next semester. There was always an option besides getting married at 19, when it didn’t feel right, watching a troubled young man become a sociopathic grown man, derailing my life because I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable or be the subject of gossip. I couldn’t see this, however, and there was a chapel full of people…

On my real wedding day, as I like to think of it, I was so excited to join my life with Jake. The only nerves I experienced were the result of knowing that in just a few hours, a lot of people would be staring at me… and I’d have to dance. Jake though? He has never been a question. The day I married Jake, I’d already moved past fantasizing about our newlywed days and well into day-dreaming about the complacency and monotony of everyday married life that everyone dreads. I haven’t just looked five years into the future and felt certain I would still choose Jake. I’ve imagined growing old together a thousand times… and not in some romantic Noah and Ally from The Notebook sort of way, but one that includes the horrors of childbirth and dead pets and money troubles and funeral arrangements and prayers and tears and heartbreak. I don’t need a romantic fantasy. I just need Jake. I’ve never doubted that he was the right choice; not when I walked down the aisle with my dad, as he assured me I had chosen right this time, not when Jake elbowed me in the head during our first dance, not when I was seasick for most of our honeymoon, not even the dozens of times we’ve argued since. Jake has consistently been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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The Religious Implications

As a confirmed Catholic, for any marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church and God it has to be blessed by the Church. Now, even practicing Catholics elope or get married in beautiful wedding chapels or at pricey outdoor venues. However, their marriage has to ultimately be blessed by a priest in a convalidation ceremony. I knew this when and after I “married” in a wedding chapel at 19 and yet, something prevented me from ever actually going through with the process. In time, I distanced myself, not just from the Church, but from my faith in general. It’s difficult to call someone Godless without drama or exaggeration, but it’s a fitting term for my ex. Unlike an Atheist or an Agnostic, the man truly lacked any moral center. He stole, lied, cheated, and he did so indiscriminately from friends, family, enemies, and strangers. Simply being associated with him as a person made me feel unworthy and yet, leaving him would also be wrong in the eyes of many. It took two years after my divorce for me to shake my shame enough to return to the Church and I promised myself that my next marriage would be official in the eyes of God.

When Jake and I married, we decided together that with his Protestant family and my Catholic family, moving and career changes, our short engagement due to rodeo season (no really), a Catholic wedding wasn’t for us. We were married at a beautiful and rustic outdoor venue, by a friend of Jake’s, who’s a youth minister and faithful husband and father; which was preferable to me over a minister to whom Jake felt no connection if we couldn’t get married by a priest. Jake might not be Catholic, but on this we agree: God’s authority is superior in every way to that of the government and the approval of my faith, as well as his, is crucial. So,we’ve already met with our new priest and scheduled to have our marriage blessed, the day after Jake’s birthday. Because I’m a confirmed Catholic, my previous “marriage” was never recognized by the Church. I have some paperwork to send in to complete my “defect of form” annulment and then, in the eyes of God, my marriage to Jake will truly be, my only real one.

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Our Standing in Life

When I was 19, I had worked a couple of minimum wage jobs and had nothing to show for it. My ex had even less, with no work experience at all. I had no savings, no assets, no real job prospects. I wanted to be a teacher, naively insisting that the money didn’t matter, making a difference in the world did. My ex didn’t and wouldn’t work or go to school, which I hoped would change. I tried not to think too much about the future, because any level of stability seemed so distant. We were renting married student housing, which was about to be condemned by the city (literally) and counting on financial aid to house and feed us. My mother paid for the wedding, because if I was married, she could sell her house guilt free and wash her hands of me. I had no real concept of money, myself, and ultimately accepted all the loans I was offered. It was Future Belle’s problem, as were many things, as I coped with how drastically my life had been derailed since the beginning of my senior year.

At 29, my wedding and honeymoon were always paid in full. At 32 years old, Jake had ample savings from his days in the oil field and zero debt, which of course meant zero credit. At 23, I’d begun working to improve my credit score and after six years, it somewhat made up for my debt, particularly when coupled with my Income Based Repayment Plan and the fact that I qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. While Jake is beginning a new career in hydrology, his bachelor’s degree in the field, his experience in oil, and his crazy work ethic have already been assets to him. Because I make just under $50k myself, in one of the cheapest states in the country, we can afford for him to start at the bottom and I’ve every confidence he’ll move up quickly. We do have debt, but we’re both committed to paying it off and we’re currently saving to buy a home within the next year. The future is looking bright and Present Day Belle handles her problems like a big girl.

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Our Actual Relationship

It’s easy for me to put that first relationship in air quotes, not just because I was 11, but considering the motivation, the fact that God wasn’t looking, and that its primary funding source was financial aid and prayer. I feel those reasons invalidate the union plenty. The foremost reason, however, that my first “marriage” was no marriage at all, was the relationship itself. At the best point, we were extremely codependent. I don’t know that, looking back, I’d claim to have ever loved him, so much as I’d say that I needed someone, anyone, and he was the only one present. 

As time wore on, though, I moved closer to Shetland and my Gramma. Gail and I reconnected after that initial graduation drift, and even any sense of codependency faded. I once explained to Gail, that you get different things from different people, that I trusted and loved her and my dad and my Gramma. All I needed from my ex was for him to work. Literally, I didn’t need love or support or trust or fidelity or goodness or strength of character or a partner or someone to lead me closer to God. I just needed him to feed himself. I was actually completely willing to continue taking care of myself, if he’d stop stealing from me. I used to joke that I’d never get married again, that marriage is miserable, that my next wedding would be on a snow covered mountaintop in hell. However, no matter how hard some readers may judge me for claiming that any marriage can not count (in which case, they can go fuck themselves), I cannot stress enough that the relationship that spanned those four years was not a marriage in any sense. 

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Today, happily and healthily married to Jake, I’ve had to get used to a few things… like the fact that my Gramma and Gail are second and third in my life. It’s strange, having not just an additional person on my list of people I’m willing to see on a weepy and frustrating day, but having someone actually upstage them. Gail has been my best friend since the 9th grade and she still is… but the dynamic has shifted. Jake comes first for me and Terry comes first for her and in neither of our previous marriages was that ever the case… nor could it or should it have been. We were married to scary fucking dudes and were both somewhat distant from our families. It was us against the world… and now it’s not. We still talk every day and have some pretty fucked up shared history, but we’re not 20 and married to psychopaths, eating fish we grilled in a public park because we don’t want to go home. When I get pregnant, she won’t be the first to know. I’ll never drive her and her baby to the ER again… and that’s weird to imagine and sometimes even weird in practice: having someone. Being married.

I’m not driving around with food from The Dollar Tree in my backseat anymore. I don’t sleep with my wallet in my pillowcase. Zetus lapetus, y’all, I trust this man enough to share a bank account with him. What the fuck happened?!? When I went home crying from the stress of my first week at the Cherokee library, Jake was the only person I wanted to comfort me. When I had food poisoning and threw up all over myself in the car, I was only mildly embarrassed that he was present to see me miserable and covered in vomit. If I have good news or a secret to tell or a funny meme to send, Jake is the first person to come to mind and that’s so weird. What is this fantastical adventure they call marriage?!?! I ask, because this is truly the first time I’ve experienced it.

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The most I can say, in defense of 19-year-old Belle, is that she was not an adult. Nineteen-year-olds are teenagers, whose brains function differently. They still need guidance and I didn’t have that. In theory, it would’ve been nice if I did, but then I might not be here… and here is really good.

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Losing an Unwanted Child

Eight years ago this week, I found out I was pregnant. I know, because it was my brother’s birthday, and also because I’m the guy from Rain Man and can remember exactly what I was wearing the first time I saw Jurassic Park, when I was five.

Miscarriage is a common topic for bloggers. Women everywhere grieve through writing, discussing their struggles with infertility, their fears that they’ll never have a child, and perhaps even previous losses. When we know them personally, we weep for these women and pray for them, as we should. We tread lightly and try not to look their way when someone else announces their own pregnancy. Hopefully, we celebrate with them when they refer to their first live birth as a “rainbow baby.” It’s really quite beautiful to see how kind and loving people are to a woman who loses a wanted child.

At 21 years old, married to a lazy sociopath, one year from my college graduation, which I intended to follow with grad school, I did not want my baby. I hadn’t figured out how to take care of myself, yet. I couldn’t imagine another human being relying on me, particularly when I could expect no help from my ex-husband, who I suspected was lying about his employment, again. I was heartbroken that another thing hadn’t gone as planned in what was a pretty wretched existence, at the time. I prayed. I did not pray for the strength to be a good mother. I did not pray for my ex-husband to shape up, as those requests had previously seemed to fall on deaf ears. No. I prayed for God to take it back… to make me not pregnant.

I was supposed to hear my baby’s heartbeat on my 22nd birthday. My first trimester was coming to a close and I needed to pull up my big girl panties and get happy, because there was going to be a baby. I cleaned out a room. I began to look forward to the ultrasound. I tore the tags from the clothes I bought and registered at Baby’s R Us. I tried. In spite of all this, on the first day of my senior year of college, at eleven weeks and one day, my prayers were answered. I started to bleed.

No one ever talks about what actually happens during a miscarriage. I never gave it much thought, myself. I had always just vaguely understood it to mean a woman went to the doctor and wasn’t pregnant anymore. Being on state insurance and having visited the worst emergency room ever, no one told me what to expect. The pain, the amount of bleeding, the baby coming out in the toilet… I had no warning. No amount of prayers reversed the course of the one that was being answered. I had no one with me as I lay on a beach towel and my body ripped apart my child… just as I had requested.

When you lose an unwanted baby, there are no flowers. There are no tears, at least not from anyone else. People still have good hearts, but they’re… well, they’re glad for you. Perhaps they wouldn’t word it that way, but you can hear it in their sighs of relief, in their condolences. Your life is back on course, just a little bumpy, and you’ll get through this… certainly more easily than you’d have gotten through that unplanned pregnancy. Despite any pro-life convictions, they even speak of the baby in less significant terms, as if you weren’t really pregnant. There’s a lot of emphasis on how “sometimes this happens” and “chromosomal abnormalities,” things they would never say about a planned pregnancy. Now, I know each scenario is different, but I promise there is no woman on Earth who wants to hear that the baby she just flushed was probably defective or that it’s “for the best.” In general, it’s a safe assumption that, regardless of the circumstances, you should just keep your fist bump to yourself.

When a woman loses a wanted child, she feels guilt and even betrayal from her body. She feels as though God is punishing her. Years later, when she’s melancholy after looking at an ultrasound photo of equal gestation to her own pregnancy, people mourn with her. For me… well, I quite literally asked for it. I should feel guilt. I should be punished. I should feel heartache when I look at the same photo. I didn’t want the baby and God reclaimed that blessing.

My reasons for asking God to take my child back, have only been validated over the last eight years. My ex-husband is still psychotic and neither I, nor a helpless child, have any ties to him. I had only just gotten to a point where I could afford to take care of myself before my wedding. Despite two incomes, I don’t feel we could fund a baby, even now. Although I married a wonderful man, we have financial and career goals. Personally, I’m still a couple of years away from being in a place where I can properly prioritize the needs and wants of another little life with mine and be a truly good mother. No one talks about what it means to lose an unwanted child, to feel grief and relief simultaneously, even years later. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still weep over tiny overalls as I thank God for the way things turned out… just that I do it confused and alone, as I deserve.

The Best Laid Plans…

I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.

I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.

Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”

The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.

Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and  hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.

I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.

In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.

Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.

The best laid plans… well, maybe not “best.”

Shout-Out to the Children of the Mentally Ill

I’m an active Facebook user. I love seeing people grow up and be happy. That’s why, even though I knew I’d regret it, I still thumbed through all of the photos of my friends with their moms. The sentiments were all the same. She’s their best friend, their major source of support, and an amazing grandma. She’s seen them through everything and taught them everything they needed to know about life.

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Naturally, there were no shout-outs to the children of the mentally ill.

When I was nine, I found out I needed to wear deodorant when my dad snapped that I stank, assuming my mother had had that talk with me. I opened my first training bra in front of my family on Christmas, from an aunt who was trying to send my mother a hint. I came home crying, one day in middle school, because the other kids said I had a mustache. I mostly gave up on makeup in eighth grade, because I didn’t really know how to apply it and had no one to show me. My mother didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know as a teenager and certainly not as an adult, considering she left me to live with her boyfriend two hours away, during my senior year.

I wish I could only feel anger. I know that’s not healthy, but I think it might be more bearable than this deep-set ache I’m feeling these days as I remember the good times we did have. Even though absent-minded about things like making sure there were tampons in the house, that I was wearing the right cup size, and keeping the electricity on… even when she was filling my head with lies about my dad molesting me and dosing me with 250 mg of Welbutrin so I wouldn’t leave her abuse…  there were good times with her. In my mother’s addled mind, we were only ever the Gilmore Girls, laughing over B movies and eating raw cookie dough. The mind of the mentally ill cannot be deciphered, so I don’t know how she rationalizes all of those other things, if she even acknowledges them. All I know is that she’s sitting at home on Mother’s Day, wondering what happened, why her babies don’t love her, while I’m sitting at home desperately missing the woman who hid the Easter eggs twenty times, because I had so much fun searching for them.

To this day, my big, tough, redneck dad still tears up talking about the mistakes he made. I’m the one who assures him it’s all good. There’s nothing to be done about it, not a DeLorean in sight, and we can go from here. I’ve tried that so many times with my mother and it’s ended the exact same way each and every time as I hysterically weep into the phone to either Gail or my Gramma that I wish Kitty Forman was my mom.

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The last time I initiated contact with my mother was two years ago. I say initiated, because she’s taken to showing up at my work, claiming there’s something physically wrong with her, deliberately speaking in stilted sentences and walking slowly. She’s told me herself the doctors can’t find anything and I’ve watched her become animated and drop the act as she gets engaged in conversation. My grandpa was our pediatrician and although he loved my mother, he thought she was making us sick, long before such things were used as plot twists in horror movies and Law and Order episodes. Today, either she or her husband is doing the same and I just can’t be a part of it. She refuses to get mental help and I refuse to entertain her insanity. I’m at a point in my life where I have to choose, and I choose me and my future family. So, today, as all the normal folks purchase flowers, take their mothers to lunch and movies, I think of all the future moments for which I won’t have a mom.

My mother won’t be there to help me choose a wedding dress, argue about how I have to have flowers, or even meet Jake, because I can’t invite her to the wedding. She’s burned too many bridges and too many people are uncomfortable around her, myself included. She won’t be able to guide me through my first pregnancy or answer questions about how to get the baby to stop crying. She’ll never take a three generations photograph on Mother’s Day, with me and my daughter. I won’t even have anyone to walk me through basic aging, like grey hair and menopause. I have so many good people in my life, including many who mother me, like Gail, my Gramma, Laura, Karol, my step-mom Lena, my Grandma Kay, and most certainly a mother-in-law one day. I’ll never have my mom, though… just a shell who resembles her less and less… and that hurts more than her absence. I suppose that’s just how it goes for the children of the mentally ill and you all have my sympathy.

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What is it about mothers?

What is it about mothers?

There’s no other relationship that, no matter how abusive or toxic, society tells us we’re obligated to repair. Grandparents are often photographs and maybe a birthday card. Brothers and sisters can live entire lives without crossing paths, once they’ve reached adulthood. Dads are practically optional in American society. We’re not even obligated to our spouses. Mothers, though… mothers are worshiped. It’s really quite beautiful that we demand such respect for women who gave their youth, their bodies, their tears, and their hearts to their children, only to watch them leave. This week, the Humans of New York Facebook page is covered with stories of actual mothers who gave every part of themselves to better their children’s lives. All over the country, people are having Gilmore Girls marathons, ordering flowers, maybe even catching planes… because it’s your mom.

“It’s your mom.”

That’s what they say. That’s what they always say, no matter the time of year, like it excuses everything. They don’t understand that just because I have a mom… it doesn’t mean I have a mom. All of these relationships can be explained away in a sentence or two…

“Oh, I never really knew my grandparents.”
“My siblings and I aren’t really close.”
“I don’t have a dad.”

… but tell someone you won’t be calling your mom on Mother’s Day and you’re lucky if you only get a loaded silence. I, myself, share your sweet memories of school field trips, movie marathons, and birthday pancakes. I smile over remembered arguments about what to wear on picture day, how to fix my hair, and whether or not I could watch that movie. I understand your fondness for your mother, because I remember what it was like to have one. Those memories, however, have long since been overshadowed by the far more recent ones of threats, manipulation, abuse, and abandonment. I didn’t get to debate over the value of Greek life, during my senior year. I got left for an online boyfriend two hours away. I didn’t just argue with my mother over wedding plans. I got to inform her that if she hit me one more time, I’d be pressing charges. I didn’t get pancakes for my last mother/daughter birthday. I got screamed at for suggesting therapy. I got a birthday cookie hurled at my front door.

It’s not that I don’t want to see my mom. It’s that she’s not here, anymore. I miss my birthday pancakes so much it hurts. It hurts a lot more, though, to reconcile and sit across from someone who looks like her and sounds like her, and think I finally have her back… only to end up crying over episodes of That 70’s Show about how I wish Kitty Foreman could be my mom… because that’s what we do. You have lunch and manicures with your mother, with whom your biggest disagreement was a boyfriend or car or apartment. The women whose mothers have been taken by addiction or mental illness… we fantasize about our favorite fictional moms and do our best to get our mothering elsewhere. If we’re lucky, we have caring dads, aunts, friends, to walk us through the hard times… but it’s never enough, because there’s just something about mothers.

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?”

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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

An Open Letter to My Engaged Teenage Cousin:

Recently, you announced to the world, via Facebook, that you are engaged. I thought you were joking, not only because you just celebrated your first boyfriend, first job, and 18th birthday, but because you’re regularly announcing engagements to your best girlfriends. But no, you clarified… this time you’re serious. There’s even a ring. I had a ring as a teenager, too. I didn’t say that, though. I didn’t respond at all, because I had a ring as a teenager, too. You are a brand new baby adult and there is absolutely no reaching you on this subject. I’m sure that your aunts have tried… your dad… your grandmother. My name was possibly even brought up as a cautionary tale.

If I thought you would hear me, I’d remind you of what you’ve surely heard in health class: that 60 percent of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 end in divorce.* I won’t though, because you’ll insist (as did I) that your relationship is different. What I’d like to tell you, is that it isn’t. Your relationship is not different from any other young marriage, in that you are not the people you will be in 10 years… not even close. We live in a society where individuals are encouraged to grow the absolute most between the ages of 18 and 25. So, while you’ll grow as a person throughout your life, you’ll likely never change so much as in the next seven years or so. Everything about who you will be, who he will be, is unknown. You are working with unmolded clay, and the odds are infinitesimal that, after seven years, you’ll exist as two pieces who properly fit together. It is entirely possible that this teenage boy, through much influence from the world beyond his teen bride, will be molded into a screaming liberal, a soldier, a vegan, a drug addict, an online gamer, an Atheist, a smoker, a pro-lifer, a techie, a role player, a devout Christian, an alcoholic, a workaholic, a thief, a cheater, or an abuser.

Maybe you won’t be crying over another mysterious phone call, wondering where the Blu Ray player went, or icing a fat lip. These are obviously pretty extreme scenarios. Perhaps you’ll just find, at 22, that you love British comedy and sushi, have a strong passion for animal rights, and aren’t totally sure if you want to bring children into this world. Your young husband will grab a beer, sit down on the couch next to you, ask what the hell you’re watching and bring up the baby conversation again. You’ll look at the man you once considered adorable and see a simpleton… the reason you can’t join the Peace Corps or take that job out of state… the only adventure you’ve ever had. 

I know, I know. I’m jaded and broken, after two years of sleeping with my wallet in my pillowcase and wondering why the dog was bleeding. I’m hardly one to give marital advice. Maybe you’ll be just as in love at 28 as you were at 18. Then what will I have to say? Then… I’ll be happy for you. I’ll be thrilled that you don’t know the soul crushing effect of divorcing a monster in your early 20s, or the fear and nerves of going on your first Grown Up Date at 23, the awkwardness of stumbling over the “I’m divorced” conversation in a new relationship. However… I’ll still be thinking of all that you missed; like the vacation you never got to take with your girls, that trip abroad that wasn’t even up for consideration, the boy at that party you had so much in common with, maybe even the bachelor’s degree that got pushed aside when the babies came.

You can always get married and have children (pre-menopausal), but you can never undo the decision you’re making right now. You’re only 18, which means that you’ve never made any decisions that will effect the rest of your life and, happiness or despair, getting married will effect the rest of your life. You will make more choices, based on that decision, and they will effect the rest of your life. Perhaps the wedding won’t be soon, but then why even get engaged? Engagement is a time to prepare for marriage, not a pseudo commitment to provide security in a time of upheaval. Your life is supposed to be scary and unknown right now. I guarantee that it’s a lot more fun right after high school, than it is at 23, when everyone else is finding stability in the world.

Those are the things I would say, but I know they’ll fall on deaf ears. I know they already have as other family members have made the same points. If I could get just one thing across, though, it would be that they’re saying these things for a reason. They love you. They’ve watched people make this choice again and again. Maybe they even speak from personal experience. They want you to be happy, just as they wanted me to be happy. Your engagement announcement shouldn’t require the assurance that you’re serious, because you’ve barely outgrown faux relationship status updates to your best gal pals. It shouldn’t be met with cautionary tales and pleas to wait. Marriage, under the right circumstances, is a wonderful thing and your family wouldn’t warn you off a wonderful thing. It hurts them to see you make this mistake, just as it hurt them to watch me do the same. I just hope you don’t shut them out, because you will need them, if the worst occurs and your world falls apart, leaving you to start over as all of your friends announce that theirs are finally coming together. I wish you could understand this, but I know you can’t, because I had a ring as a teenager, too.

* http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/351

“Too soon?” Yes. It is too soon and you’re an asshat.

On Saturday, Paul Walker, actor in The Fast and the Furious franchise, died as a passenger in a single car accident, on the way home from a charity event. We, as a country, responded in one of three ways:

1. Appropriately sad
2. Somewhat unhealthily sad
3. With giggles

The first response is obviously the one I favor. These people may have posted something on social networking sites addressing Walker’s age or expressing best wishes for his family. They may have mentioned their love of his films or the fact that they just got them all on sale on Black Friday. They expressed remorse and went on with their lives. Perhaps these folks watched She’s All That and managed to not angrily scream “WHERE IS THE ADMINISTRATION?!?!?!” during every high school scene. Normal.

The second response… is weird. I’ve really never understood the total devastation someone can feel over a celebrity death. If Pope Frankie (as my cousin, Mitch, likes to call him) died tomorrow, I would weep for the Church. I’ve never met the man, but he’s an influential leader and, in my opinion, a truly good soul. If Barack Obama died tomorrow, I would weep for the country, because he’s a political leader and that would leave our government in uproar during a tenuous time. If Leonardo DiCaprio died? I’d comment on his age and watch Titanic, failing to not angrily scream “HE’S A VAGRANT, YOU IGNORANT COW!” during every romantic scene. I would not cry… because his life in no way affects me or anyone I love and I don’t feel I have that right. My Gramma cried the day Elvis died. I know many who cried when Michael Jackson died. I just don’t get it. However, it’s not an offensive reaction. I realize that other people (who are wrong) don’t necessarily scream “Emotions should be hidden like the last fucking Horcrux!” every time their eyes water. Maybe they’re the healthy ones. I don’t know. Regardless, no harm done.

The third reaction? This one is deeply disturbing.

Facebook status on Tuesday:
So a car just freaking exploded and was engulfed in flames right next to my apartment building. This is one of the most insane things I’ve ever witnessed

Comments:
– Paul Walker came over? To soon?
– ok guys that’s a bit fast with the Paul Walker jokes. I’m furious.
– haha I think it’s time to hit the brakes with the jokes.

 I am not contradicting myself here. I realize that I’ve made many inappropriate jokes in my day.

::in the car, waiting for my dad and step-mother to bury my grandfather’s ashes, inJuly::
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.”

So, what’s the difference? The difference, is that my grandpa used to drag my brother and I to church on the weekends that we went to the lake, because vacation was no excuse for missing Mass. The difference, is that every Christmas he bought us shitty gifts, filled with love, because it’s all he could afford. The difference is the cherished rosary he wanted me to have. The difference, is that he was my family and saying goodbye was hard, so humor was my crutch, because emotions belong with the last fucking Horcrux!!!!!

Paul Walker was only 40 years old and his father had to bury his baby boy. I don’t even have kids and my relationship with my dad has shown me that a child never stops being his parents’ baby, whether they’re throwing up at age 10 or crying on their doorstep at age 23. A woman watched her son lowered into the ground forever. His parents won’t be able to give him the Christmas presents they’ve already bought. There’s a couple out there weeping over high school graduation pictures from the early 90’s. Paul Walker wasn’t an only child, either. Bo may be a redneck bigot sometimes, but if my big brother died, I would be inconsolable. Most tragically, there’s a 15-year-old girl out there who was just getting know her daddy and now his light is gone from the world.* He’ll never interrogate a college boyfriend or walk her down the aisle. That is heartbreaking.

Paul Walker’s death was no more tragic than that of any other 40-year-old man with a family and full life. It also, however, was no more uproarious. If his family and friends choose to use humor as a crutch, more power to them. We all have fucked up coping mechanisms. Whatever gets you through hard times. Everyone else? No. We don’t get that crutch, because it’s not a crutch for us. It’s insensitive and cruel, especially when published on a social networking site where the man’s name is tagged and his family is guaranteed to see it. Remember when your dog was hit by a truck when you were fourteen? How much more awesome would that have been with strangers making lame-ass jokes?

“What’s black and white and red all over? Your dalmatian!”

This isn’t a new issue, either. It’s not even confined to celebrity deaths. During the last natural disaster, I had a heated Facebook debate with that douche bag from high school who’s only on my friends list because it’s amusing to read about how much he loves himself. When I called him out on his insensitivity, he told me I had no right to be offended, because I wasn’t harmed. CHILDREN DIED. I’m sorry, but as an American citizen, a native of this state, an educator, I had a fucking right to be appalled that the bodies had barely been recovered and he was running the laugh track for his self-proclaimed cleverness. Furthermore, several people liked each and every comment I made, as I defended the fact that his being an inconsiderate prick, didn’t mean I didn’t have a sense of humor. I clearly was not the only offended party on the billboard that is Facebook.

Gaily’s daughter died at eight months old. I was Aunt Belle. I saw that little lady 5 times a week…. and sometimes we make disturbing up jokes about it, because it hurts not having her in the world. It’s how we deal and we know we’re broken. Where has the compassion gone for everyone else who’s hurting, though? I’ll admit, I don’t know what to say in times of heartache and I usually end up doing something really awkward…

In fact, the last time, I’m pretty sure I waited waaaay too many days to comment and then blurted “I’m sorry you’re sad.” It wasn’t perfect. Far from it. It also wasn’t a giggle. Had that been the alternative, it would have certainly been best to say nothing. This is a really easy response in social networking. You don’t have to comment. If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut your damned hole on a public forum.

I’m not even knocking offensive humor, as a whole. I, myself, have made too many battered wives jokes to count. I’ve also survived an abusive marriage. Just the same, generally offensive jokes, like those horrifying dead baby jokes that Gail and I made as teenagers, are far less appalling. They never pinpointed one tragedy or crying family. We were also kids and didn’t quite comprehend that that shit actually happens. The comments I’m reading and hearing about celebrity deaths, the Oklahoma tornadoes, and Sandy Hook? Those aren’t being made by kids, but adults who fully understand the pain and heartache of losing a loved one; and without fail, they always end in “too soon?” Yes. It is too soon and you’re an asshat.

i plane ny
This shirt fucking exists.

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/paul-walker-died-seconds-crash-coroner-rules/story?id=21098595

http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/12/01/the-sides-of-paul-walker-you-may-have-missed/

“It’s just not a good fit.”

In the last couple of years, I’ve learned to deal with a lot of rejection. I coped when I didn’t pass my graduate portfolio for the first time. I’ve dealt with my mother hurling cookies at my door on my birthday. I’ve even gotten better at accepting the fact that some men just aren’t feeling it. Now, I have faced these things, but in all of the above cases… I did so horribly. So, it’s with little surprise that I’ve handled my very first professional rejection so poorly, today.

I’ve worked with one library system for two and a half years. They have my loyalty and, luckily, I have theirs. Not only does termination in this library system require murder while intoxicated and an intricate system of strings and pulleys, but I just had my three month evaluation with my new branch. My boss informed me that I was meeting all expectations, she had no complaints, and I seemed to be fitting in with everyone. I’m holding onto that pretty tightly right now, because…

… my other boss just informed me that, after six weeks, I’ve worked my last day at library number two.

Yup. I was let go… for the first time ever. Why?

Boss: “It’s just not a good fit.”
Me: “I don’t understand. I’ve never been late. I do everything I’m asked. I jump up and help customers. I’ve made any changes you’ve suggested. Isn’t there a procedure for this?”
Boss: “You’re still in training and it’s just not a good fit, so we need you to clean out your locker.”
Me: “Did I break some kind of huge rule or something? I don’t get it.”
Boss: “It’s not a good fit. It’s time to get your things.”

So… that happened. I’d be lying if I said things were going wonderfully. After three weeks of working for this library system, the same supervisor told me that she was concerned about the “negative language” I’d been using.

Me: “What do you mean?”
Boss: “Well, when I asked how your training went, you said it was ‘okay.’ When I asked what you thought of staff day, you said it wasn’t what you expected. Those sound like backhanded compliments.”

Um… what?

I said the training was okay, because it was okay. There were things I found useful and things I didn’t. I said staff day wasn’t what I expected, because staff day wasn’t what I expected. We do staff day differently at my other library system and she knew that, because I clarified. Even at the time, I desperately wanted to respond with:

“Well, I’m sorry you’re choosing to take it that way.”

I also didn’t. I told my boss that I’d work on the things she suggested and I did, raving about the useful things I learned in training. But then…

Boss: “You’re not allowed to wear hoodies at the desk.”
Me: “What?”
Boss: “If it has a hood, it’s a hoodie. It’s just too casual and unprofessional.”
Me: “I’m sorry. I’ve just never had anyone express that opinion before.”
Boss: ::scoff:: “Uh, yeah… I guess that’s my opinion. I’m pretty sure it’s the opinion of everyone else in the system, too.”
Me: “Okay. I’ll wear a sweater next time. Just to clarify, it’s the hood that’s the issue, right?”
Boss: “Yeah. We like people to dress professionally. Think bank attire.”

I know what professional dress is and didn’t need the clarification, hence the heels I regularly wear. I also know that it’s cold in libraries and the dress code said nothing about a fleece jacket in November. That makes it a personal preference or… wait for it… opinion I’d also worn it several times before this and she never had a problem with it. Regardless, I never wore the jacket again. I even bought a sweater without a hood, because she did verify that the one with a hood wasn’t acceptable. 

There you have it. I knew things weren’t going smoothly. Just last week, we had one of my boss’s weekly bouts of criticism, where she told me that she had expected me to be further along. I politely explained that I felt like I would be, if the desk time weren’t so spread out, because I was constantly at staff training. I mentioned that I had a lot of desk time coming up and I thought I’d catch on quickly in the next week. She said that would be great. The next shift we worked together was my last.

In retrospect, I’m proud of myself for how I handled our final conversation. I defended myself and made it crystal clear that this woman had no justifiable reason for ending my employment, which was witnessed and understood by the other supervisor in the room. While my boss couldn’t see her face, the woman looked horrified and supremely uncomfortable. I did not cry. I did not beg for a second chance. I made her admit, more or less, that this was a personal issue of hers, because apparently, it’s a thing for someone to let you go, because they just don’t like you… and it fucking hurts.

I probably could’ve done without burning my shirt and name tag in the kitchen sink, though. That was, admittedly, extreme. What can I say? I have two settings:

1. handling it with grace
2. fire

Fortunately, I deleted my old boss’s phone number, so I can’t do anything stupid. One month is a blip in time, not worth mentioning. A restraining order is not.

While I understand that not everyone is going to like me, this woman disliked me so deeply, that she was willing to go through the trouble to hire someone new. Furthermore, I was supposed to do a program in a few days. She’s been blowing me off every time I mentioned it for weeks. I’ve never been able to find her profile on Facebook, though I know she’s friends with her other employees, meaning I’m pretty sure she blocked me ages ago (I even looked through mutual friends… totally rational.) It’s mighty convenient that she only scheduled me for a few hours this month. She was plotting this. She never gave me a chance, because she disliked me that much. Fucking ouch.

Me: ::crying:: “What if this means I’m just a bad librarian? What if this isn’t for me and I never get full time?”
Gramma: “Oh, Belle. Stop it! You’re a good librarian! You just said a man was thrilled that you downloaded a book on his phone. They love you at your other job.”
Me: “How can anyone dislike me that much? I did my job! I didn’t do anything wrong!”

I once read an online article about the most crushing moments in a person’s life. One of them was the first time you’re punished for something you didn’t do. Here, here.

First and foremost, it’s the hurt feelings and unfairness. I don’t need everyone to like me, but you still have to work with people you don’t like. That is so unprofessional and inappropriate… and it sounds like total horseshit to say it was a personal vendetta. Every jilted ex employee plays the victim. I sound pathetic and I know it. Second, it’s the loss of security. I felt like a big girl. I could finally pay my bills and just knew there would be work, and therefore income. Now, I’m back to substitute teaching. I’m unsettled all over again, and in my pain, I was downright weak to my best friend, Rosie the Riveter.

Me: I’m tired of feeling so unsettled. I just want a full time job and a husband. I don’t care if that kicks feminism in its big hairy balls. I want a settled romantic relationship and guaranteed income.
Gail: I don’t think that reduces your value as a person at all.
Me: I’m tired of my twenties. I’m over it. Can I just have screaming kids in the other room and a boy who’s on my side at the end of the day? Can I do that now?
Gail: Other than “you’re allowed to want that,” I’ve got nothin’. You’re doing your best. It’ll probably come. 

As usual, the rest of the world thinks I’m overreacting.

Me: “What if I never get full time at my other job?!? What if this ruins my professional reputation!?!?”
Dad: “Belle, you are reading into this waaaay too much. You barely worked there for a month and you didn’t even like it. It’s not going to ruin your life. You’ve said yourself that the two systems don’t even talk. I’ll bet anything she has someone else she wanted to hire for this position and it has nothing to do with you. Calm down.”

Gramma: “Everything happens for a reason. This is just paving the way for better things. Calm down.”

Coworker at my other job: ::scoff:: “We’re not gonna think less of you. We’re gonna think less of them.” 

Other Coworker at my other job: “Just don’t put it on a resume. It’s not going to affect anything. You’re fine. I don’t know that anyone in the systems even talk to each other.”

So, I’ve allowed myself a limited amount of time to dwell, cry, pout, and be devastated, humiliated, and outraged. Tomorrow, when this blog will post, I will work to put the last month and a half behind me. I will work even harder to regain my confidence as a librarian and recover from losing a job for no reason.

There were no experiences from this position that I’m not getting from my other one. I never wanted to be full time with that system, because they pay significantly less and their benefits suck. My boss stressed me out to no end and I had fantasized about quitting anyway. She’d already made me cry twice and if she continues with this attitude, it’ll all come back to affect her professionally. The time I spent at that job allowed me to catch up financially and I’ve accepted two substitute jobs, just this week. My primary job is going better than I would have ever dreamed. I’ve already updated my resume. I’m set. 

Gail: “You know how, when you’ve made plans to hang out with someone and you don’t want to anymore, but you made the commitment, so you keep it? Well, then, that person calls and cancels and you’re like ‘Seriously? You’re canceling on me?”

Gramma: “Belle, you’ll get over this. You’ve been through a lot worse.” 

Damn straight.

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.