Shetland in My Rearview Mirror

At 10 years old, I was chubby, asthmatic, and uncoordinated, longing to rank amongst my sportier classmates, who played competitive soccer and already had “boyfriends.”

At 13, I was still chubby, asthmatic, and uncoordinated, but also surly and defensive around those “stupid whores” who now bullied or ignored me.

At 16, I was every small town, cliche, misfit, declaring this town was too closed-minded for my creativity and biding my time until I could leave the judgemental assholes behind.

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I used to joke that there was no sight as beautiful as that of the Shetland water tower in my rearview mirror, insisting that once I left, I’d never return. I did leave at 19, to go to college about 45 minutes away. It wasn’t far, but it wasn’t my bizarrely religious and intolerant southern suburban hometown, either. Sadly, however, my college years involved several more moves, a house fire, a miscarriage, and a divorce, as opposed to the more traditional toga parties and slam poetry readings everyone else enjoyed.

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Wait, wait, wait… did Saved By the Bell lie to me?!?!?

Luckily for me, as Robert Frost once said, “home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” because at 23-years-old, newly divorced and a little broken, I returned to Shetland to lick my wounds. Waiting for me was a flexible job substitute teaching and a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment that rented for just $490 a month, with an ironically comforting view of the Shetland water tower from my patio.

After the first year, the fear began to subside when someone knocked on the front door, because I knew the rent was being paid and there was no risk of eviction. After the second year, I realized one morning that I hadn’t slept with my purse right beside me, because there was no risk of anyone stealing from my wallet. After the third year, I was able to put away my .357, in its pink gun sock, because I knew he wouldn’t break in and steal from me again. Surprise of all surprises, when I wasn’t looking, the town I once despised had become a healing place.

Indeed, for six years, my little apartment has been not only my home, but my safe haven. I’ve pulled all-nighters with the patio door open, enjoying the breeze and the cigarette smoke from the neighbors as I worked on my graduate portfolio. I’ve littered the floor with fabric swatches and straight pins in my latest craft project, while marathoning One Tree Hill. I’ve lain by the pool and read romance novels and listened to 50s music. I’ve packed more people than was probably wise onto my patio, to smoke cigars and drink cheap booze. I’ve dramatically cried after bad grades and bad dates and bad days at work.

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In a lot of ways, Shetland now embodies my carefree twenties, more so than my tumultuous teen years. The horse-themed landmarks that once brought forth memories of bullying and boycotted football games now recall nights at the community center playing pickleball with my friends after closing, getting day drunk in my living room floor and giggling over online dating profiles with Gail, decorating my hot pink Christmas tree, sharing my first kiss and makeout sessions with Jake. It’s been a wonderful time in my life and it’s bittersweet to see it end.

Saturday, I bought packing tape and boxes. I threw out my college kid papasan chair. I took down my wall of photos of just my family and friends and consolidated them to one collage frame. In less than eleven weeks time, my life will no longer be just my own and so in just two weeks, Jake and I will move into our first house together. The town of Cherokee is just fifteen minutes from the Jackson library, but forty minutes from Shetland… forty minutes from Gail… forty minutes from my Gramma… forty minutes from home.

I know it’s for the best that Jake and I start on neutral territory, that we have more space than my apartment allows, that my dog finally has a yard, but it’s so hard to pack this stage of life into boxes, knowing I’ll unpack them in another. I’ve hardly begun and I’m having trouble not tearing up looking at my bare walls. Ridiculously, I already get weepy driving through town, knowing that one day I’ll be surprised to see new restaurants and office buildings, that the Shetland I know today will cease to exist.

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I’ve worked so hard over the last six years to carve out the life I wanted, to figure out what that life even was, who I even was. I’m overjoyed that that’s where I’m headed. I’m also beyond grateful, that I cherished my time here in Shetland and the bulk of my twenties. I didn’t spend my days pining for a husband and children and mortgage. I enjoyed my days alone and my nights with friends and even my bad dates with strangers, because each phase of life should be savored, one is no more valuable than another. At one time, I identified so clearly with Steinbeck’s quote that “it’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” But… I loved this one and it’s kind of breaking my heart that it’s just time to put the Shetland water tower in my rearview mirror.

 

 

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Getting My Tattoo Removed

At 24 years old, I sat in a Sonic drive-through with Gail.

Gail: “What do you wanna do?”
Me: “Let’s get tattoos!”

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Now, perhaps, if I’d actually had a tattoo in mind, this wouldn’t have been such an inevitably regrettable decision. I am not anti-tattoo. My first was not my last. I also have my Gramma’s signature of her first name, which is my middle name and hopefully one day my daughter’s middle name, on my left foot. I will genuinely cherish that tattoo for all time, particularly when she’s gone, though she still insists that she’ll live forever. At 24, though, I had just divorced my ex-husband, lost 90 pounds, was dating again, nearing graduation for my master’s degree, and felt like I’d gotten my whole life back. I wanted to commemorate that, so when put on the spot, I chose something that spoke of life to me. The fact that it was a Logan’s Run reference was just an added bonus.

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Today, I look at this tattoo and you know what I see? I see a girl who needed to start her life over and all the reasons why. I see a 260 pound 22-year-old fantasizing that her psychotic husband will kill himself. I see two part-time jobs substitute teaching and cleaning gym equipment with a bachelor’s degree. I see myself driving around with all of my valuables in my trunk, because the man I live with will pawn them. I see a 24-year-old who desperately wants to distance herself from the most terrifying years of her life, by getting a tattoo that symbolizes their end.

You know what, though? I did get my whole life back. I got to be young and reasonably fit. I got to go to bars with my friends and giggle through bad date stories. I finished my master’s degree and built a career. I fell in love. I’m going to get married and have babies and buy a home and it’s just going to be… my life. I don’t need a reminder that I ever had another one. I’d love to say that I came to this conclusion, gradually, over the last four years, and in a way, I did. However, I also went home from the tattoo parlor, looked at my cliché white girl ankh, and Googled how much it would cost to remove it. Maybe a part of me knew, even then, that this symbol wouldn’t be relevant for the rest of my life. Knowing removal would be costly and painful, of course, I tried to rationalize. This was my Gail tattoo. This was something crazy and impulsive we did together. Had I just gotten something silly and fun, like an elephant or a flower, then sure, it would be. But, as Jake and I have become more serious, I can’t deny that this is a reminder of a time in my life that it hurts to remember. Those years still cause me nightmares and I think about them every time I look at this tattoo. I just… don’t want it anymore. I also know that, when it comes to removal, it’s now or never. If I still have this tattoo when I get married or especially when I have kids, it’s not going to be a financial priority. So, a couple of months ago, I bit the bullet and scheduled my first consultation.

Speaking of time and finances, do you have any idea how long it takes to get a tattoo removed or how much it costs? Perhaps I shouldn’t have built my expectations for this procedure on a season of How I Met Your Mother, but I felt like it was a two to three month process, of 10 sessions. No. In fact, there must be eight weeks between each laser removal session and patients are advised to expect 10 sessions. So, in a year and a half, I can hope to see a mostly clear-skinned foot. That’s right. Results cannot be guaranteed, so the decision must be made to pay the price and hope for the best. That price, at the only clinic in the city, is $35 per square inch, with a $50 minimum. Because my tattoo is thankfully small, that makes it $50 per session. I’m no mathematician, but even I can figure that it’s going to cost more than $500 to  get this tiny little ankh off my foot. So, how much does it hurt?

Thiiiiiiis much.

The first picture is of the scorch marks from the laser. The second is of the blistering that happened later. I did a little bit of research online, about how much the procedure hurts, trying to get an idea of whether or not it would even be bearable, before investing money. The comparisons ranged from “popping like a rubber band” to “small droplets of hot grease hitting your skin.” In my personal experience, the latter was dead on. Fortunately, I have a great technician, who will stop and let me take a break. The first session took me three goes, the second only two.

Does it hurt more than getting the tattoo? Yes, but it’s a much quicker process. Because my tattoo was so small, it would’ve taken, literally, about 30 seconds to do the whole thing, had I not needed breaks. Getting the tattoo took about five minutes and was also quite painful. Personally, I’d rather the extreme pain of removal for 30 seconds than the substantial pain of application for 10 times that. That being said, were this tattoo any bigger, I’m not sure I’d bother, partly for the price and partly for the pain.

As it stands, now, I’ve been through two tattoo removal sessions and I deem it bearable… but only just. I’m cheap, though, so even if it did get more painful, I’d be completing the process, because I’ve already invested $100. Fortunately, it’s supposed to get less painful, but pretty much always be awful. I keep having nightmares that I have larger and uglier tattoos to remove. Will this one be worth the time, pain, and expense? For me, yes. My advice overall, is simply not to accompany a divorce with at tattoo.

I’m a Librarian, B^+<#@$!!!

Four years ago, I had just found out that I was pregnant and that my ex-husband was lying about having a job… again. I was morbidly obese, starting my senior year of college, about to do my student teaching, and paying the bills through… well, prayer. I was petrified.

Today…

I am a fucking Librarian!!!!!!!

Suck my dick statistics, because I left the bastard and…

I. Did. It.

I followed through on all of my dreams and got that Bachelor’s degree and then that Master’s degree and now the job! My divorce didn’t lower my station in life. It opened up a universe of possibilities and opportunity.

  • Women who divorced between 2010 and 2011 were more likely to receive public assistance than men who divorced during this time, with rates being 23% and 15%, respectively.
  • Of women who divorced between 2010 and 2011, 27% reported a household income of less than $25,000.
  • Children of divorced parents are twice as likely to drop out of high school and less likely to attend college.
  • While men are financially better off than women after a divorce, they are more likely to suffer more emotionally.

I’m sorry. What was that? I can’t hear you over the sound of my I’m a Librarian, BITCHES!!! dance coupled with my ROAR OF AWESOME!!!!

A little bit o’ this…

… and a little bit o’…

.. and some nce, nce, nce.
Finally, some…

Yeah. They don’t let me dance at stuff.

Today, I talked the ear off the lady at the gym who asked why Librarians need a Master’s degree. Yesterday, I bought myself these… because I am just that cool.

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Sometimes, divorce is not a failure. It is the righting of a path. I wasn’t meant to be the miserable wife of a sociopath. I was meant to be right here.

Gail: “The divorce was not the mistake. The marriage was the mistake. The divorce was just what was required to correct that mistake.”

I’m not advising you to leave your husband because he won’t try that new thing in bed or he won’t put his fucking shoes away. If there’s something to salvage, fight for it. If you’re fantasizing about a life where he dies, through no fault of your own, because you’ll finally be free… if the marriage is truly awful and he or she is a truly poisonous person… there is a better life out there. No matter how scary it feels to go in search of it, it is so very worth it.

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” – John Steinbeck

Yeah. I looked that up.
http://divorce.lovetoknow.com/Divorce_Statistics

The Amazon in My Corner

Abigail the Passive Assertive is how she’d go down in history if passive assertive people went down in history. They don’t, but you get the point. When we met, I was the mouthy one and Gail was the doormat. We seem to have leveled each other out, more or less, over the past ten years, as I’ve taught Gail the value of standing up for herself and she’s taught me the value of doing so without a screaming match in Algebra class. True story. Every now and then, though, people push Gail just an inch too far and it’s always Feed-the-Gremlins-After-Midnight awesome.

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Scene: at a bar, where Crooked Teeth has been begging her all night to come out to his truck with him, actually trying to pull her to the parking lot at one point.
Crooked Teeth: “I just want to show you my truck.”
Gail: “Really? You just want me to see your truck?”
Crooked Teeth: “Yeah. I swear.”
Gail: suggestively “Well, what if I just wanted to go out to your truck, pull down your pants and suck your dick until you cum in my mouth?”
Crooked: “Uh… what? Is this a trick?”
Gail: “Uh… yeah…duh.”

The Musician was a phase (THANK GOD) and they were never exclusive. He, however, desperately wanted them to be… on Gail’s part, while he had a mirrored headboard and multiple brands of tampons under the bathroom sink.
The Musician: “So, what? You’re out at a bar trying to pick up other guys?”
Gail: “I’m going to let you go, so you won’t have to talk to such a whore anymore.”
The Musician: “I’m just trying to get to know you and that’s hard to do when my lady is getting to know other men.”
Gail: “I’m not YOUR lady, I’m MY lady.”
The Musician: “It’s just a figure of speech.”
Gail: “So is ‘nigger’.”

See that. Gail’s a regular little Amazon when you push her too far. Overall, however, she’s a pretty passive person. We both had somewhat absent parents in our teens. My mother was busy eating candle wax, while Gail’s parents were busy bragging about her little sister. Don’t get me wrong. Gail and I both understand that they just have more common ground with Sadie and that’s why she was their favorite. It’s not that they love her more, but that they get her more. If there is a crime, it’s that they aren’t all that subtle about their preference. For example, I’m not even kidding when I reference the birthday card Gail saw displayed in Sadie’s bedroom declaring her “the best daughter two parents could ask for.” I cringe, not because of the obvious favoritism, but at ending a sentence with a preposition.

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As adults, Gail and I find this hilarious. We know they love her just as much as Sadie. They just don’t connect as well with the daughter who truly had to be talked out of living in her truck a few summers ago, for no reason. As a teenager, however, Gail felt rejected and mistreated and, as is still the way of Gail, she said nothing, because familial conflict is a lot more difficult than telling off Jethro Clampett in a bar. So… enter teenage Belle, who felt abandoned and abused, and could therefore totally relate. Ultimately, we clung to each other, fumbling our way through our formative years with only another clueless teen as guidance. Considering we were both divorced by age 23, that may not have been the best path, but it was certainly better than going it alone.

Having been through all we have, Gail and I can both be accused of going Mama Bear on each other at one time or another. After I posted a blog about how overwhelmed I was with grad school, I got a text message demanding “You’d better be kidding about the cocaine.” I was. When Gail told me she met Terry on fucking Craigslist, she got an angry text message “That was wreckless and dangerous. You could’ve been super murdered and then I’d be all alone to deal with how much that sucked. Fuck off.”

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“Eloquence” is the word you seek. I should be allowed to address the masses.

Despite the must-be-fated-in-our-blood connection, Gail and I are far from the same person. As a reader of Red Pill blogs (though I don’t subscribe to the ideology), I love to call Gail “Captain” when she does any traditional male activity, just to piss her off. It’s even more fun than “Rosie the Riveter”. She generally responds with a comment about how I should be churning butter or vaccuuming in pearls. You see, we are the victims of identically broken marriages to men who weren’t men or adults in any traditional sense. Both refused to work and resorted to tears as manipulation tactics. Neither took any pride in supporting themselves and were happy to let the woman of the house do it. Gail took it for less than two years. I took it for just over four. Our reactions were exact opposites. Gail wants to take care of herself and doesn’t need a man’s help. More importantly, she doesn’t want to support a man financially. I can take care of myself as well, but I want to be with a traditional guy who understands what role a man is supposed to play: breadwinner and spider killer. I’ll gladly slip into some pearls and vaccuum in the meantime. Ironically enough, Terry, Gail’s beau, is mighty traditional. I always knew she secretly wanted a man to take care of her.

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Insert condescending head pat :here:.

You see, Gail has a mothering tendency that is beyond normal or healthy and the death of her infant daughter three years ago didn’t help. We once had the following textersation, in true keeping with our humor-cancels-out-emotion arrangement.

Me: I was watching this documentary on penguins and thought of you. “When the female penguin loses her young, she is quick to adopt any stray and will often fight another female penguin over rights to the chick.”
Gail: Shut it, stray.

So, when Gail dates a… oh, just for fun we’ll go with musician… who smokes a ton of pot and lives a wreckless lifestyle, she can’t help but worry (despite her own tendency to fuck Craigslist truckers). She feels like the babysitter, whereas I would just feel like it’s his fucking problem when he gets arrested. In completely different ways, we have both washed our hands of men who don’t act like adults. She avoids them and I encourage them to put pepper spray in their eye: another true story and one that demonstrates this perfectly.

About two years ago, Gail’s on-again-off-again (they still said “I love you”, but didn’t sleep together) boyfriend, Cam, was at my apartment with Gail. I had just begun a new job in a different part of town than my white, wealthy, suburb, where I walk the golf course at 2:00 a.m. with no worries, and my Gramma had insisted I buy pepper spray. My Christmas tree is hot pink, y’all. When I saw pink pepper spray, I was sold. Gail has this theory that there are some things that you just don’t buy in pink. I fully disagree since my tree and my hammer and both of those guns all work fine, Captain.

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Gail, however, kept insisting that the contents of my pink pepper spray were “lemon juice and glitter”, to which I responded “I don’t want either of those in my eyes, so we’re good.” I must state that Cam was about two years younger than we were, putting him at 21 during this story. Though he worked three jobs, he was pretty much 12 years old forever in a lot of his antics. The pepper spray debate continued so I jokingly asked Cam…

Me: “Hey, Cam. You wanna test my pepper spray?”
Cam: “Sure! I’ll try it!”
Me: “Seriously? I was kidding. You probably shouldn’t do that.”
Gail: “NO! Do not! We’re going to have to take you to the hospital.”
Cam: “Oh, it’ll be fine.”
Me: “Alright. Here. It’ll be a story either way.”
Gail: “BELLE! Don’t encourage him!”
Me: “What?!?! He wants to do it. Let him do it.”
Gail: “Ugh! This is a terrible idea.”

So Cam took out his knife, cut open the package, sprayed a little bit of pepper spray directly into his palm, rubbed his finger in it and touched his eye.

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Then… all hell broke loose. Cam immediately declared “It works! Oh… it burns!” and leaped up to run to the sink while Gail frantically ran water… forgetting about the open knife on his lap. As he was bent over the sink, blood gushing from his nose due to his clotting disorder and high blood-pressure from the pain, I took a moment from my uncontrollable laughter to ask “Is your foot bleeding?” as blood dripped onto my floor. Only then did we realize, he’d dropped the knife on his socked foot… and that was even funnier. In my defense, Cam thought this whole thing was hilarious as well and part of the problem was that he was laughing while Gail yelled at us both that this was serious, while shoving tampons into Cam’s nose, partly to shame him and partly so he wouldn’t die.

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Me
kid
Cam
screaming at boy
Gail

That story pretty much sums up Gail’s entire relationship with Cam.. and the musician… and our friend Malik… and pretty much every irresponsible person she’s ever met. I just declare them to all be adults and let them do as they will. Worst case scenario, I know that’s not lemon juice and glitter.

Scene: Cam lies on my floor with an ice pack over his eyes, a bandaged foot, and tampons in his nose. Gail stews angrily while washing the bloody towels and sock.
Me: “Well… at least we know the pepper spray works.”
Cam: groaning laughter
Gail: groaning laughter “Damnit, Belle.”

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Gail and… well, the majority of the relationships she has with people.

Since the Great Pepper Spray Incident of 2011, Gail has pretty much steered clear of Adult Children and I credit that to the actual stray she took in, Ginger.

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Gail’s all “I don’t remember her taking this picture and this is the second time she’s posted it” as she reads this, because coincidentally enough, the sewer rat Gail insists is a dog looks just like this.

I comforted Gail during her divorce. She held my hair during mine. She listened to me cry during my miscarriage. I helped her make Valentines to leave on her daughter’s grave. Maybe we’re both pretty broken, but it’s beyond amazing to have someone there who will read everything I write and send me encouraging comments, come over and cry to me when a boy uses her, listen to me rant and rave about my lunatic mother, and call me when she’s having a hard time dealing with the fact that her little girl, Grace, would have been four today. Told you she was an Amazon, because fuck I don’t know how she’s retained her spirit through that. Lucky for me, though, because it’s pretty awesome that I always have an Amazon in my corner.

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“Divorce is the coward’s way out”: My yellow-bellied bliss.

A few weeks ago, a woman who was unaware that she was speaking to a once 23-year-old divorcée, told me that “divorce is the coward’s way out.” Fine. She was a coworker, because I am broken and no one I work with knows I’m divorced. Happy, Gail?!? Of course, this isn’t the first I’ve heard of statements such as the above. I’ve ranted about them here, here, and here. I didn’t even comment this time. Now that I think about it, though, that was an inappropriate time to burst out laughing. Once I caught my breath, I started to really consider the implications of this statement. What about leaving my marriage to a sociopath makes me a coward? Then I realized… holy shit, it did take bravery to stay with the man that long. He was terrifying and I was terrified of him. For the last year of my marriage I slept with my wallet in my pillowcase and drove around with my Gramma’s jewelry hidden in my car. I spent my few free hours, between jobs and grad school, chatting and crocheting with Gail in a Taco Mayo, because I could buy a .99 soda and get refills all night and not be home. When I did get home, I drank to take my mind off my misery and would even play the “let’s see how fast can I write this essay before the Everclear kicks in” game. Both drunk and sober, I created entire fantasy worlds where my ex-husband died (through no fault of my own) and just was not in my life. I secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) wished he’d finally give into all of those suicide threats, because then it would be over. To this day, I sleep with a revolver next to me in a gun sock, occasionally cuddling it like a stuffed animal when I have nightmares about still being married. So yeah. It took bravery to stay and perhaps, by extension, cowardice to leave. If that’s the case, though, my cowardice has reaped some fantastic rewards. In the last two years, I’ve made amazing friends, had some hilarious dates, taken several epic day trips, gussied up and gone on too many dates with me-and-only-me to count, reconnected with God, chosen a new career path, lost nearly 100 pounds, taken up a dozen hobbies (only one of which sprung from my fear of my ex-husband)… … and oh, yeah… today, I have officially earned my Master’s degree. That’s right. Despite that sociopathic son-of-a-bitch doing his damnedest to drag me down into the gutter with him, I did everything I ever said I would and am going on to live my life with a bright future. I’ll never again eat free movie theater popcorn all summer or shoplift bags of frozen chicken under the dog food, because that one hundred dollar bill went missing from my wallet. I’ll never find myself pregnant and praying for a miscarriage more than freaking Rosemary, because that baby would have a father without a soul and then weeping with shame when said request was granted. I’ll never miss another holiday just to avoid lying to my family about whether or not my husband has a job and I’ll never again wipe blood from the dog’s paws. I don’t live under constant fear of eviction, since he not only hasn’t paid the rent, but faked having a job. Because I am such a fucking cowardmy life is filled with absolute yellow-bellied bliss and he doesn’t get a single minuscule piece of something for which he did not work. I’ll gladly take this over the scars of bravery any day.


Bravery

Cowardice

I was a 23-year-old divorcée.

I wrote this entry months before moving to WordPress, so very few of my 80 something followers have even seen it. It still greatly resonates with me and I find myself wanting to make the same points in newer posts, so I’m reposting it and I hate the “reblog” style.

The right idea…

In the Midwest, we marry young, often because we have kids even younger. There are a number of reasons for this trend, but to name a few…

One: you can buy a decent house here for well under $100,000, so a couple of 18-year-old kids can actually afford to care for themselves. Two: our parents did it and still effectively force smiles for the family photo. Three: if you have sex before marriage, you will get syphilis of the broken heart and Jesus will personally punch you in the head (or so say our middle school “sex education” classes). Four: country music said it was romantic

Mostly, we just make bad decisions.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some of these marriages that work, against all odds. Mine, however, was not one of them. Married at 19 (for an astounding number of terrible reasons), I divorced at 23 and can name at least 10 people in my graduating class who also want to start a club. One issue with marrying so young remains consistent regardless of location or motivation. When you marry at 19, you miss out on a ridiculous number of milestones and experiences that everyone else your age is having; or, in my hometown, that half of the people your age are having while the other half prepare for their inevitable divorces right along with you.

After high school has ended, we have the chance to go to parties and find other people our age who like the same weird crap we do and introduce each other to new things. We date and realize how and where to meet people, express an interest in them, recognize their interest in ourselves. We discover a personal style and catch up on any of the things we didn’t learn in high school, like how to flirt and dress up for a night out without looking too slutty. We discover what’s attractive on some and what works and doesn’t work for us. We learn how to let someone down easy or bounce back from a brush off. Maybe we even begin doing things alone and becoming comfortable with who we are. As I said, we have the chance. We also have the chance to throw it all away for a white dress that would’ve fit 10 years later and a whole lot of screaming.

Soooo… fast forward five years later. The divorce from the first boy you ever kissed is finalized. The crying and drunken phone calls have ended. You’re moving on. It’s healthy. And you have no idea what the fuck you are doing.

Divorce is bad enough on its own. You’re humiliated and you feel like you have to explain the story to everyone who hears the D word, so they’ll understand you’re not just careless with the sacred institution of marriage. Only, if you do, you’re that crazy woman who just told someone her life story for no apparent reason. You feel like a failure and if you’re religious, you feel like you pissed all over the Bible. Everyone acts like they knew it was coming from day one and you’re angry because they never told you. Logically, you know you wouldn’t have listened, but you’re furious at them for letting you get married and yourself for being stupid enough to do it in the first place. Everyone assumes you want them to badmouth the ex, but then you feel like an idiot for ever seeing anything in them. You have moments of such intense anger and hatred, you feel like no good and decent person could possibly think such thoughts. These are standard divorce feelings, from what I’ve heard, regardless of age.

A 23-year-old divorcée, however, has these and a whole host of excitingly unique problems. While everyone else was growing and adapting to the previously mentioned scenarios, I had stalemated as a person. Emotionally, I was still 19. Before my ex-husband, I’d never dated. At all. So upon my divorce at 23, I still had the dating skills of the 12-year-old who used to watch and rewatch the same episode of Roswell, desperately wishing she’d magically wake up Liz Parker. I had never changed a tire or filed my taxes or fried an egg. If you think growing up and learning how to be a big girl is embarrassing at 14, try doing it at 24.

Living day to day as a single adult is a completely foreign concept when you’ve been with someone else since you were a child. Waking up in the middle of the night and knowing that you’re the only one to care for you is terrifying. The first time you get sick and no one is there to give a crap, you openly hope it’s Ebola and that all of this will be over soon. Knowing, without a doubt, that you are the only one paying the bills or cooking dinner or hanging photos or getting the oil changed or making the big decisions will cause you to hyperventilate. It’s half the reason you stayed married so long. Even buying your first vibrator is an admittance that you are all alone and caring for yourself entirely. That is scary as shit to someone who has at least been able to pretend someone else was carrying their share of the weight their entire adult life. These are just basic day to day functions, like learning to cook because that was the one thing he would do. However, while you’re fumbling to act like a grown up, you also get to face looking like one.

Bow chicka wow wow…

When you’re struggling to put food on the table and finish college, sex appeal just isn’t a priority. I had to learn, at 23, that hair can do something other than ponytails and braided pigtails. My best friend and a damned Youtube video taught me to apply eyeliner. Multiple times I have stood weeping in a dressing room because I don’t know how to be grown up. One month, I decided I needed a more attractive walk. In my defense, I based this on an interview seminar where the speaker demonstrated the importance of standing up straight. But the forced sway, was all my addition. I thought my usual clumsy stumbling must make me look immature. Only after seeing one of my guy friends imitate said walk, did I realize I looked like someone trying to balance on stilts without stilts. This was nothing compared to the actual interview that involved heels so high, I hobbled in and fell over, praying the manager didn’t see and ran out barefoot with similar aspirations. Figuring out that dresses are a thing, however, is hardly the most terrifying aspect of being suddenly single, though. If trying to master acting and looking like a grown up, simultaneously, when everyone else is years ahead of you, wasn’t daunting enough, there’s dating.

A common issue for even us young divorcées, is that we wonder if we have time to meet anyone else. In the Midwest, we truly are rushed to meet, marry, and procreate as soon as possible. Your 20s don’t really exist. The people who didn’t get married the year you graduated high school are mostly married just five years later. So, not only are you single after the divorce, you are the only single person ever, making dating even less appealing.In my case, I seemed to have polar opposite reactions to men. I either thought they looked at me and internally mooed or they were desperately clutching locks of my hair at night. My first blunder in this area was with a dear friend, who helped me through my divorce. I was on the rebound, terrified of the future, feeling lonely. C was kind and supportive and kept me company through my constant texting. Our mutual friends always made jokes about us being in love. I suppose these things naturally led to my conclusion that C, indeed, had feelings for me. He did not. The awkwardness between us passed and we are great friends to this day, despite the time I tried to kiss him because I figured it would finally set things straight. (Don’t do that.) But even now, a year and a half after the papers were signed, I’m still screwing up my signals.

Online dating was an obvious first choice. I still consider this a valid option. Many people do it and the percentage of them that are nuts is the same as in a local club. Only they don’t usually let you know this by grabbing your ass and saying you owe them for it, so you should come back to their place. The first time around, I wasn’t ready and stopped talking to the guy after he asked to meet me. The second time around, about a year after the divorce, I talked to a new guy for far too long, before meeting him, because he was overseas. He was mostly a nice guy, though too old for me at 30. I felt nothing and purposefully left my phone and purse at the table when I went to the restroom so I wouldn’t talk myself into bolting. Once he informed me that there was no way my divorce was as bad as his, I regretted this decision and ended the date with “I’ll text you.” He never heard from me again.

In hindsight, I regret the way I treated Combat Brian. I should have informed him I felt nothing instead of ignoring him. But this goes along with all of the things everyone else knows how to do at 24. I had no idea how to tell the guy I wasn’t feeling it and figured he’d get the point when he never heard from me again. He may think I’m dead. While Combat Brian did deserve a bit more respect, despite calling my marriage (about which he knew nothing) a bouncy castle, The Air Traffic Controller who told me he ran over a cat on his bike and was pissed that it may have broken his wheel, did not. He had weirdly placed ears, swore too much, didn’t tip the waitress, and told me I was in idiot if I paid less than $2,000 for a bicycle. He texted constantly, even when I didn’t answer. (What the hell? Who does that? Someone with a vagina, that’s who.) So, again, I employed my trademark finesse and just stopped speaking to him. I’m not sorry. However, in the moment he texted me when he saw me at Chick Fil A, I was indeed a bit remorseful… in my pick of restaurants. I smoothly told him I was busy with finals and not deceased. Having more dating experience than I, he took this for what it was, me blowing him off.

Every now and then, I’ll think I’m getting better at this whole thing. I can put on my eyeliner in under a minute. I’ve only found myself stuck in a dress in a department store, near tears, once in the last month. I love living alone and can make Hamburger Helper. I pay my bills and handle rejection from a man I meet online with just enough grace. I feel like I’ve got it all under control. That’s when I do something completely fucking insane.

Bartender was a boy I knew in high school and, something I discovered only recently, worked at a popular restaurant. He’s flirty with a tongue piercing and not my type at all. For some reason, I decided that this was just what I needed. I often feel behind for the fact that my Magic Number is a whopping ONE. Yes. Take the number of people you’ve slept with and divide it by itself and you’ve got mine. I figured casual dating wouldn’t be the worst idea when Bartender wanted to hang out. I took this as a date. He claims he didn’t, but I think he just took the chance to declare crossed signals after I drowned him in text messages for a week and Gail convinced me to send him a sexual solicitation just to see what he’d say. I got $24 for said text and hysterically cried to another friend:

“I suck at this. I have no idea what I’m doing. At least other girls sort of know where they stand. They can look at an orange and think ‘Oh, a fruit’, but I look at an orange and think ‘Yay! A bicycle!.”

After things didn’t seem like they could get any worse, I kept texting him to convince him that I wasn’t insane. At first, it was in the way you’d expect, by explaining the situation… way too many times.Then it was at one week intervals, about unrelated things.

“See. I couldn’t have feelings for you when I’m just texting about True Blood. I’m so casual and smooth. Not crazy at all. Right? I mean, that’s what you’re getting out of this, isn’t it?………..

………..

………..

Lafayette’s my favorite.”

Finally, I’ve realized that the best case scenario here is that the heavy drug use will wipe me from his memory. Really? What was I thinking?

But all of this has taught me some valuable lessons. I now know to let them come to me if I don’t want to risk rejection. I also know that endless texting is really fucking annoying, no matter your intentions. Even the constant self-consciousness has faded a bit. I can now go to a movie alone and not wonder if everyone around me is whispering about why a woman is seeing a movie by herself. (I swear, humans are ridiculously self-centered and Facebook is not helping to convince us that we aren’t constantly being watched.)

This is what everyone in the theater sees…

However, I still find myself assessing every man in the room and looking for a ring. I wonder what they think of me, whether I’d be interested or not. If a sleeve tattoo is one that covers your arm, then the tattoo artist who touched up my foot yesterday had a ski mask. I still could not stop thinking about how badly I wished I’d shaved my feet before this. I may be able to sit through the movie alone, but it’s still awkward to eat out. I know that if I couldn’t take the most basic rejection, I really couldn’t handle a one-night-stand. My brother tells me all the good men are taken at my age and I can hear my biological clock ticking because I wasted so many good years and everyone in the Midwest thinks your soul has died if you don’t have a family of your own by now. I still sometimes cry in the dressing room because I don’t know if I look edgy or silly.

Appropriate for my first day of work, right?

But sometimes, another girl from high school tells me she’s getting divorced and I have some insight. I can relate to how she feels and let her know that, of all places, our hometown is the place to not feel alone in this. And lastly, I can remember that I’d rather be weeping in a dress, because I don’t know if it fits correctly, than weeping in wedding dress because I know it’s all wrong.

I have this stuffed bear…

Me: “Okay.. so you’re poised over your ex-husband’s sleeping form…”
Gail: Interrupts with choking laughter

We have this thing, where we can’t deal with adult emotions on the things that hurt too much, so we giggle instead. It’s really pretty awful if anyone overhears a good rape joke… in a Target… with their seven-year-old… at 9:45 on a weeknight? Sir, I really think you should be more concerned about your child’s sleep schedule than my quiet discussion with my best friend about her vaginal trauma (he hadn’t actually heard the joking portion).  Fortunately the above was just a phone conversation.

Gail’s answer was that she’d do nothing.

Mine was that I’d be so threatened by his presence that I could kill him.

I think hers was healthier.

Me: “Every time I see this kind of thing on the news, I worry I’m going to see my ex-husband’s picture. How fucked up is that and how broken am I?”
Gail: “Yeah, I could see him doing something like that.”

I have this stuffed bear. It’s in a box in my storage closet.  I kept it out of spite after all of the things he stole from me, literally and figuratively. It’s covered in soot from a fire I can’t bring myself to discuss. I’m not sure why I keep it. I’m too afraid to contact him to send it back. It feels hateful to throw it out. So it’s just there… in a Wal-Mart sack to keep the soot off of things.

I haven’t woken up with my wallet and keys in my pillowcase since I moved to this apartment. I don’t lock the bedroom door and can usually get through the night without getting up to check the patio and front door locks more than once. I rarely sleep with my gun anymore.

I still can’t sleep without my purse and wallet next to me.

I still have nightmares.

They’re not usually violent. Sometimes he’s texting… counting down the minutes until he breaks down the door. Usually, I’m just still with him. I never did it. I never left. My life never turned upside down to right itself in a completely different universe. I’m still fat and alone and hateful. I lie in bed and can’t breathe. Sometimes I wake up crying. I cuddle the dog and promise him I’ll never let anyone hurt him again. I kiss his paws, even though they’re dirty dog feet, because I’m so happy they aren’t caked with blood. I think the dog has nightmares, too. He’s yipping in his sleep right now.

jude in chair

Maybe I’ll set the bear on fire.

Why am I writing this instead of my final? I suppose I get a nice divorce rant every now and then.