I feel trapped sometimes.
Right after I got divorced, it was BRUTAL.
Hugs that were too tight.
It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out why, you guys.
If my seatbelt locked.
If I woke up in the middle of the night and Craig’s arm was over me in just the wrong spot.
Turtlenecks, or t-shirts that were too close to my neck.
From the very first time Craig sat down on the edge of my blanket, and from the very first time I felt just a little bit of panic that I couldn’t get out -
he’s been patience personified.
Quietly shushing me in the middle of the night when I’m tangled up in blankets.
Taking a soft step back when I squeeze his hand a little too hard.
And it’s not really something we even talk about anymore. I feel like, for the most part, the trapped feelings have subsided, and most of the time - I don’t even notice them.
Until last night, when we’re in the middle of Des Moines when ten inches of rain fell.
And suddenly, we’re IN a flash flood.
In my car that is ALMOST paid off.
With my five-year-old.
And every street we went down was blocked with an accident, a stalled car, or a new gushing rapid.
People were high-centered on medians.
People were stranded in their cars as the water just didn’t stop rising.
My mom’s voice in my head.
My dad’s voice in my head.
Don’t get out of your car.
We went down a side street and six or seven men in their twenties with their shirts off and their hair soaked were pushing cars out of the way. One ran up to our window. “Don’t go down there,” he said, out of breath. And then he ran to the next car.
Craig laughed - amazed. It was like some kind of actual war zone. I stared wide-eyed out my window. I’ve never seen anything like it. Never seen rain that hard. Never seen the water rise that fast.
I squeezed his hand even tighter.
We were trapped.
And I couldn’t figure out what direction we were going because it’s not my city.
And it was dark.
And the rain just wouldn’t abate.
My hand tightened and tightened on his until he would softly say, “Baby. It’s okay.” And I would release. A little. And then it would start all over.
“What do we do?” I asked over and over. I eyed the people parked in church parking lots on hills wondering if that was the way to go. Wait out a storm that actually looked like it wasn’t going to stop for hours? Stop at a hotel? The same hotels where the parking lots are flooded and the first floors are flooded?
“Sleeping in your car during a rain storm is definitely better than sleeping in your car during a blizzard.” Craig looked at me and smiled.
“Yeah, but what are going to do?” I bet I asked him 100 times.
And every single time - without fail - The Boyfriend said to me, “It’s going to be fine. We’re going to be fine.”
Yeah. But we’re in a FLOOD, Craig.
We finally made it to the interstate, and it was night and day different. One side of the interstate was backed up for miles because of the flooded river. Our side was blessedly fine.
For the first time in an hour and a half, I took a deep breath and I unclenched my jaw.
We turned down the street where his apartment buildings are, and the water rose again. “Wouldn’t it be funny ...” I started slowly, “If we make it this far and THEN my car decided to stall?”
We both laughed. Because we could literally see his apartment building.
And then we turned into his parking lot.
Which is flanked by two ponds.
Which were both flooded across the driveway.
And my mom’s voice in my head.
And my dad’s voice in my head.
And you don’t drive through standing water.
But there was no other way in. Every entrance was flooded - the back entrance by a creek, and the front entrances by the ponds.
And the water was up to my windows of the car I’m still paying for before we even realized how deep it really was.
And it’s nicest car I’ve ever owned.
With pretty, heated leather seats.
And a giant screen for my handy backup camera.
And my car died. Right there. In the middle of all of the water.
I sort of feel like I’ll be good in a crisis - I do teach junior high and all, but -
I was BESIDE myself.
Trapped in my car.
With my kid.
With water everywhere.
And I have NEVER hated Iowa more than I did at that moment.
Two people - angels, really - were standing there watching people trying to get through the mess. They said they’d been pushing people out all evening.
So Craig put my car in neutral, and I put my head in my hands.
And they pushed us out.
Through my windshield, I could see Craig working by the light of his cell phone flashlight. He popped his head into my car. “Do you have rags? Or towels?”
I have granola bars?
A sealbelt cutter?
A glass breaker?
Two fleece blankets?
A safety vest?
Like I am READY for a Nebraska winter, but I am OBVIOUSLY NOT ready for an Iowa summer.
I don’t know what he used. But my car finally started again and he drove us to his apartment and
My legs were stuck to my leather seats and my kid was still marveling at “all of the really cool lightening, mommy,” and Craig was carrying my air filter.
I put Tuck to bed, and walked out to the living room and said for the thousandth time -
“But what are we going to do?”
My dad isn’t exactly across the street if I have car trouble.
Neither is Craig.
I’m by myself all the time (don’t come rob me).
I need a reliable car and I kind of feel like mine was just used as a boat.
“It’s going to be fine,” he said again. Over and over and over until I finally believed it.
Wide-eyed, I stared at his bathroom fan - now blowing full blast with my air filter strapped to it by a rubber band. My blow dryer lay next to the sink, obviously used to help dry out the filter and I turned to stare at Craig.
And I started to settle back down.
We went to bed finally, and the dog that I lost in the divorce but still sometimes babysit curled up at the foot of the bed. The ceiling fan rocked above us and the rain - still with the rain - pelted the windows outside.
“Where do you learn this stuff?” I asked. Mostly because I don’t know what my air filter looks like, where it’s at, or how to find my way home in a damn flood.
He shrugged his shoulders and talked about changing oil in cars at the gas station when he was 14. He talked about his grandpa Dolan. And then I heard him chuckle in the dark. “Dolan would be proud,” he said.
Yes, I thought. He would be.
Craig worked all weekend long. Each day this weekend, he’s been working at a car show. I dropped him off this morning at 6 a.m., and he’s tired. It was so late, and I know he was so tired, but he didn’t complain one single time.
And even still, the very last thing that I heard last night before I fell asleep was his soft voice in my ear, telling me that it was all going to be okay. Just like I always do - I believed him.
And I dreamed about NEBRASKA sunshine.
PS - I don’t really HATE Iowa.
The very first time I thought about writing at all, I was in sixth grade.
One of my friends had given me a journal with kittens on the front. I pulled it out, sat on the front steps of our porch at the farm, and I wrote about what I could see.
And what I could see was miles in every single direction. I wrote about the sunshine, the green grass, and how my dog was laying at my feet.
When I was finished, I felt ...
I imagine it felt just like a person does after they finish a run.
And I became addicted.
I "hid" the journal in my top drawer of my dresser and I pulled it out and wrote everything in it all the time. Prayers. Wishes. Things that happened at school. Short stories.
Eventually I ran out of paper and started using notebooks. A little snippet in this notebook. And a little piece there. Scattered all throughout high school. Pieces of me on scraps of paper.
In college, Dad bought me a leather journal and I filled it up. For each Christmas since, he's given me another. They're full - FULL - of dreams and prayers and wishes and lists and everything that I could ever think up. Within those lines lay who I am.
I was asked again recently why I write.
I suppose it's because I still chase after that feeling of euphoria when I'm finished. That release.
But lately, it's been because of connection.
I was at a writer's conference this weekend, and I use the term conference oh-so-loosely because really? It was a giant sleep over weekend with my favorites. Without writing, I never would've met some of the most loving, kind, wonderfully brilliant women that I did.
Women I thank God for every. single. day.
I write because I have to. Of that I'm positive.
And now I recognize even more that I write so that I can know
Because you and me? We're not all that different.
The Boyfriend took me to see Lloyd McCarter on Saturday night, kinda because they're friends, but also kinda because when I listen to him sing Merle Haggard,
I feel like I'm back in Texas for a second.
We came in through the front door of the venue and the cold air nipped at our backs. The band's guitar player, Mike, smiled his way over to us and we chatted about cataracts, my writing, and teacher life. Craig made his way up to the bar and the air smelled like cotton candy. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him order our drinks with ease.
He didn't even ask me what I wanted. Three years with a person will do that to you. I quietly tucked that feeling away in my back pocket.
Easily, we found our place at the back of a small room with a stage and not enough tables. In a corner, I took my coat off and draped it over the sound booth. Craig and I smiled at each other and talked about nothing and everything and then the lights dimmed. I felt his warm palm slide around my waist. I felt his smile, genuine and warm, on my shoulder.
A band took the stage, and a girl with red hair walked out and captivated me.
In her hands were two Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, and her skirt from 1954 flared out around her calves. Her lips flamed up behind the microphone and her eyes, cold and wide, stared right over all of our heads at the back wall.
I leaned up against the sound booth and looked over my head. What was she looking at?
Nothing. There was nothing there.
Her hand clutched the microphone stand and her harmonies were a touch off - not in a note sense, but in more of a checked out sense.
Her hips swayed back and forth. Through three songs,
She was there. In the same room as me.
And yet, she was a billion miles away.
She looked like she was an accountant or an insurance salesman on a stage not meant for her. She looked like she did this on Saturday nights to remind herself that there is a giant world beyond her cubicle walls. She looked like she walked out on stage to remember what it was like to feel
I looked over my shoulder at Craig and asked him about her. "Why isn't she looking at us?" He shrugged at me, and behind me, she picked up drum sticks and softly played an emerald green drum in a way that reminded me of junior high kids still getting to know their sticks.
Their voices were muffled even through their microphones. The awkward pauses between their songs were broken up by her chugging more beer.
By the time she was halfway through her second can, she started talking to us like we were in front of her. Like she just noticed -
Just in time for her to spew, "This next song is about how all guys are dicks." She held up a hand with French manicure that didn't match the 50's housewife vibe she was trying her hardest to portray. "Not you guys, of course. Everyone else. Out there." Of course. Out there.
And she sang.
And I couldn't understand the words.
But she closed her eyes and she clenched her jaw in between verses and her drum was forgotten. And that's the kinda thing I do understand.
She talked about her son, but wore no wedding ring and I thought about her on the way home.
I wondered if she wrote songs on her arm like I write metaphors when I don't want to forget.
I wondered if she cut her hair in the spring when the sound of shears slicing through is the only thing to ground a girl and kill the ants climbing through her restless skin.
I wondered why she was even on the stage to begin with.
On Sunday morning - Revelation Sunday, as I jokingly called it, Craig and I talked about our pasts. It sure is easy to put things in neat little boxes, tape up the sides with "I'm fines" and move forward. And then, when the exhuming starts - when the halting words and closed eyes and head shakes start - well.
I felt like the girl on the stage.
Craig compared his past lovers to each other and it looked like hills and valleys in my head and I almost told him as much - until I did it myself and saw the same.
Or maybe it looked like waves - the sea touching the beach over and over again.
Closer yet to who it is looking for.
Reaching out closer,
getting it a little more right with each push.
He stared at the ceiling, absently running his fingers through mine over and over again. "I knew it would be a disaster. Every single day. I knew it was going to end in disaster, and I did it anyway."
I wondered about the girl on the stage.
"Did that ever happen to you?" He blinked his brown eyes and shifted them to look at me.
I closed my eyes and heard her voice calling into the microphone. Her Rs were slurred. "Screw 'em all." All I heard of her man-hating song was a haunting four notes over and over again.
I hadn't realized I was holding my breath.
"Yeah," I said, sighing.
"I did it anyway," he mused. Eyes back up at the ceiling. Head back to that year. My hand back in his. "And it wrecked me."
Conversation shifted to something else and the girl on the stage under the blue and red lights fell away.
It wasn't until today that I realized she wasn't staring at the wall behind me because she was nervous. She was staring at the wall behind me because she was bored.
I walked out of the bathroom on Saturday night, and she sat perched on a barstool surrounded by two or three men with their jeans rolled up and the whites of their Converse muddy. Her eyes rolled, and shifted to the bartender. Her drink sat on top of the bar, sweating. The men talked around her, but not to her and she wasn't interested.
They didn't notice.
And she sat there anyway.
There are years that ask the questions, and years that answer.
I keep this quote on a tiny piece of paper in my wallet. It's somewhere in between my Eiffel Tower receipt and The Brother's college graduation picture. Somewhere between a bus ticket from Australia and my library card from the Library of Congress.
Somewhere between the years that asked ... and the years that have answered.
Before we left for the wedding last weekend, I sat with my dad in his kitchen. There's a little bench next to the stove, and he wiped down counters and did the dishes. Music played in the background, and years ago, in a different house the same thing was happening. I sat there and we talked and all I could do was cling to the hope that there will always be moments where he and I both get to sit and talk.
When I told my parents that I had decided to get divorced, each of them stayed rooted in my corner. Neither was disappointed in me, though they were perhaps disappointed for the life I could have had. I don't think I was the only one that mourned the maybe.
Dad and I sat in the kitchen on Saturday and we laughed, and we talked about the last few years of my life. "Sometimes, it's best just to move on," I said, my shoulders shrugging much like his do. "Sometimes," he said, nodding. He talked about not being able to change people - not being able to control people. And dang if that's not the truth.
Years that ask. Years that answer. An ebb and flow.
In many ways, I felt like I lived 2017 in a complete question. I was still stepping through single parenting, living by myself, shoveling my own dang snow thankyouverymuch, and learning to cook for 1.5.
Also though? I feel like EVERYONE lived 2017 in a perpetual questioning state. Never in my life has the Hurston quote pressed so heavily on my chest.
If we ask, and ask, and ask.
If we pray, and pray, and pray.
If we search, and search, and search.
Eventually, the tide will turn.
Eventually, an answer will rise up from our bellies and take root in our hearts.
The hardest part of the whole asking and answering, though, is the acting on the answer. Once you find your way ...
You need to walk that way.
Sometimes, it's a slow walk.
Sometimes, it's feet shuffling ... in the right direction.
Sometimes, it's a loud door slamming and a run.
The courage to act on the answering?
That's when you know you're living in the light.
Over break, The Brother was at my house with his wife and three kids for a week. My mom and step-dad were here, too. And The Gen and me. All of us in one house. And some things got broken, you guys.
One thing was a giant, heavy, metal framed window. It was green and chippy and pretty. And did I mention it was heavy? It was laying up against the brick fireplace ... precariously.
But I didn't know it was precarious until the four children decided to play dodgeball in the basement.
Let me tell you - as a parent? Nothing makes you run faster than the sound of a giant crash and glass shattering. When I got downstairs, all four of the kids were wide-eyed, terrified, and all pointing at the metal frame and shattered glass.
Glass that was literally everywhere.
We hustled the (thankfully NOT hurt) children upstairs, and mom, the step-dad, and I cleaned and cleaned. The step-dad donned gloves and picked up the big pieces. I turned over Tuck's trampoline and there were just glass shards.
In the brick. Along the edge of carpeting that met the brick. In the trampoline. In the fireplace. In the rocking horse hair. Everywhere.
Just as we thought we were finished vacuuming and sweeping, we'd see another flash of glass. And we'd start again. Shoes on. Phone flashlight sweeping over the tan, camouflaging carpet. Eventually, we declared it cleaned up.
Literally an hour later.
The kids went back downstairs to play - gingerly. Each terrified that they were going to get scolded. Each still apologizing profusely. Each still a little shell-shocked that they DIDN'T get hurt. Because listen. It could've been pretty bad.
Everyone is gone now. Mom packed her bags up and flew out on Sunday. Monday rolled around and The Boyfriend left and I was home alone. For the first time in two weeks. I cleaned up the basement a little more. Put the trampoline back, rolled up the bounce house, and ...
Stepped on a shard of glass.
We were so careful. The kids played down there. Slept down there. We were so diligent in cleaning it all up and I can't believe we missed just one tiny sliver. I can't believe it found my foot.
Ohhhh, my. There is always a but.
I started to kind of think divorce is a little like that, no?
You clean it all up. Separate finances. Divide debt and pots and pans. You take your favorite spatula and you leave behind your favorite book page wreath (that literally took you eleventy two hours to make). You leave behind bedding and take with you a bruised heart and you think you have it all boxed up and put away.
Labeled accordingly: Fragile.
In the beginning, you step through the days gingerly. Carefully. Wearily. Both eyes wide open and your hands out in front of you. You search for the hurts. You treat yourself as if you could break at any moment. Shatter.
But time passes. And the sun comes back out. And you start to take bigger, deeper breaths, and you start to think that maybe.
Maybe you can start to relax a little.
And then, you step on a glass shard. As neatly as you can box things up. As carefully as you can pack things away. As perfectly as you can label a cardboard box. Sometimes, things can get missed. And damn, those are the things that hurt.
Before Christmas, my mom and I were in the car together and she turned to me and asked me why I love Craig. I kind of laughed.
Because he lets me wear his Snap-On pullover like it's mine? Because he doesn't hate it when I pick up his coffee table and put everything in tiny, neat little piles that he just has to dig back through? Because he listens to every. single. story. in. my. life. twice?
I sighed. "Because he's honest," I said. "And I craved, craved, craved honesty. I wanted that more than anything else."
Something in his life - some glass shard of his own - cut him hard and deep and his honesty is almost guttural. He clutches it. Throws out fiery balls of truth like some kind of defense that he doesn't need. And damn if I do. When I work up courage to ask hard questions, there is always, always an unhesitating, honest answer in return. It's been some kind of weird revelation, this honesty.
Today, I was in his apartment cleaning up said coffee table. And bathroom. And doing his laundry. Because #girlfriendoftheyear. I came across something that looked a little ... fishy. For about .3 seconds I felt this weird panicky feeling that I recognized immediately - like an old friend that I've spent so much time with.
Three years post divorce and they are still showing up. I'm almost certain that they'll always be there. But the excavating. The talking, and thinking, and praying, and digesting. The asking and receiving.
They lessen the shell-shocked, panicky feelings that rise up from some shadowy, lost part of my heart. They lessen the sharp edges of the glass.
And I can breathe again.
PS - The thing that looked fishy? Not fishy at all. Which is really all really just to say I'm never cleaning a man's bathroom ever again.
. About Moi .
I love, love, love flannel sheets and I am really passionate about lists on post it notes and most of the time I'm sad that no one else is as excited as I am about Diet Mountain Dew. I also adore run-on sentences.
He saw her before he saw
anything else in the room.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
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