Apples

The sign glared at me as I walked through the doors.  Ninety-seven cents a pound.  Who could pass up a deal like that?  I walked over to the apples, as I grabbed a bag to fill and shook it loose, using my fingers to open the top, the memory washed over me, as they often do at random moments.

Six months.  That is the total time I lived in the Dominican Republic.  It was long enough for it to begin to feel real, and short enough to wonder if it was all just a dream.  There are so many things in my life here that remind me of my brief life there.  Sometimes the moments come to me at the weirdest times, and I have to ask myself if it even happened at all.

Navigating life in a place that is not home is always difficult.  I’ve learned this over the years.  Figuring out the ways to live and understand and cope and learn is an exhausting and incredibly trying experience.  It’s one I value and love though.

So many things there were so expensive.  Food was so expensive.  It caused me to worry daily.  It caused me to weep out of fear and frustration.  It made me feel sick.  Our grocery store there became familiar.  I learned where everything was and how to navigate the aisles.  La Sirena, a mega store much like Walmart, became familiar and routine.  The yellow mermaid tail hanging from every sign, the theme song blaring through the loud speakers, the smell of fish and meat, the piles and piles of passion fruit and mangoes and avocados, all became familiar and easy.  I would wander the aisles and gaze longingly at the food we couldn’t afford, food that was so cheap and easy at home.  I would stand staring at the jelly.  I couldn’t believe the price.  As I stood there gaping and doing the price conversions in my head, I would inevitably walk away.  I did it every single time we went there.  I would find the jelly, convert the price, and walk away.  I think I hoped that something would magically change, that my math was wrong, that maybe, something as easy as jelly could be a part of my every day life.  It never was.

But apples were.  Apples were a little cheaper in Santo Domingo than they were here.  They were always on the list.  The boys ate them at almost every meal.  Apples.  A piece of home in a very foreign and glaring world.  I would walk through the produce every time we went there, pricing out the things I wanted to afford, but couldn’t, hoping against hope that maybe today there would be a sale or that I would be wrong in my conversions.  Usually the apples got bagged up and I would move on to carrots.  Carrots were cheap too.

Checking out was always a chore.  In all my years of travel and time spent exposed to the Spanish language I’ve never managed to pick up the ability to speak it beyond the usual please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, yes, no, I don’t know, I don’t speak Spanish, I speak a little Spanish, hello, goodbye.  But, I understand it well.  Even today I hear conversations around me and understand before I even realize it’s not English being spoken, but Spanish.  I know I will lose that ability as I move further away from my time there, but for now it’s almost as sharp as it’s ever been.  I would stand in the checkout.  The cashier would ask a series of questions, to which I would nod or shake my head, or look down as my husband answered them.  Our card was almost always denied the first time, and would need swiping again.  Our bags would get packed up and tied in a knot at the top and we’d make our way to the parking garage, full of gas fumes and people and car horns blaring.  As the sliding doors opened on the outside world, the wave of heat and humidity would hit me.

I never got to the point where I didn’t notice things.  I don’t know if I would have had I been there long enough.  As we would tip our bag boy and climb in the car, I would long for something familiar and comfortable, something that felt okay and made me think, “All is right with the world.”  It never happened.

It was hard living there.  It was hard being a silent person in a world filled with noise.  It was even harder being a silent person when I felt I always have had so much to say, about everything, all the time.  It was hard not being able to express myself or make friends.  It was hard feeling stuck in a sixth floor apartment.  It was hard navigating the crazy traffic and listening to the endless song of car alarms.  Even if you take away the fact that my entire life was crumbling, that my husband was gay, that my kids were falling apart, that nothing was okay, it was hard.  It was so hard.

Yesterday in Walmart I had a moment.  It washed over me and brought tears to my eyes.  As I stood there picking the best apples I could find and then moved on to the grapes and bananas and pears, I remembered those lost and soul crushing moments spent at La Sirena.  When my mom asked me to pick up some jelly, I asked her if she was sure.  Then I remembered, this isn’t the life I was living a year ago when I would gaze longingly at the $8 jar of jelly.  I am no longer bound by the fears and grief of leaving behind my familiar life.

And then, it hit me, how am I supposed to feel about that?  I thought I was supposed to be bound by those things, I thought I was supposed to seek out discomfort.

Life is a series of losing things and gaining others.  Last October I was still sitting in the full weight of culture shock, I was watching my husband quickly disappear from me, I was frantic and scared and alone and absolutely and incredibly terrified.  I was losing everything I thought I needed to survive.  Yesterday as I shopped the aisles of Walmart not one of those emotions existed outside of my memory of them.  I was back in the familiar and comfortable.  I am gaining a life I never knew I wanted, but desperately do.  For the first time I realized how good it felt, how often I have sought out a life that will keep me right on that edge, hanging on, but just barely, that moment in movies where the grip the hero has on the victim’s hand is almost lost, but not quite…that’s the life I sought out.

And now I just want jelly.  I want familiar and comfortable.  I want stable and secure.  I want as easy as possible.  It doesn’t mean I regret any other moment lived.  I don’t.  It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be on that edge, I do, but only sometimes, and only briefly.  These times in my life have done great things to teach me and grow me.  I quietly smile when I hear a conversation going on in Spanish, knowing that my moments have taught me so much, including how to understand that heated debate happening next to me.  They’ve taught me how strong I am and what I want and where I want to go, but I’m tired of living on the edge.  I am tired of extremes and fear.  I want Walmart, and traffic laws, and silent nights, and cars free from alarms, and cool air, and quiet, and front yards, and cheap gas, and the dollar store.

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to get out.  Now, I’m learning to find my way back in, and it feels good.

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I Lived

I was always the first to bow out, step down, back off.

I never competed for anything.

I always accepted mediocrity.

It seemed easier.

It seemed protective.

It felt safe.

I remember the moment in time when accepting things for how I thought they were happened for me.  It was a fall day.  I had arrived home from school and shucked my clothes on the floor of my room.  I rifled through my drawers for those exercise pants.  As I pulled them on and went in search of the t-shirt I wanted to wear I had the brief thought, “Why?”  I pulled the t-shirt over my head, used my fingers to fix my hair and sat down on the edge of my bed to put on my socks and shoes.  As I made my typical rabbit-ear tie in my shoelace, another thought passed briefly through my head, “Who cares?”

I headed out the door to exercise.  I found myself walking and jogging through a neighborhood that was familiar to me, but not mine.  I noticed the air, it was cool and smelled like falling leaves.  A dog ran the length of the fence barking it’s greeting at me.  I could hear my feet hitting the pavement.  In spite of the perfect day, the air, the beauty of that fall day, I felt miserable.  I stopped.  I stood in the street.  The house across from where I stood had an interesting look of chaos and disorder.  There were ropes and ladders and stolen street signs and wooden platforms covering every inch of the yard and climbing into the trees, reaching high above the house.  I stood staring at the house for a long time.

Before I knew it, my feet had wandered on.  My thoughts had wandered as well.  They wandered to my friend who was going out with my lifelong crush.  She knew I liked him.  He knew I liked him.  It didn’t matter, they liked each other, I wasn’t enough.  They wandered to the kid at church I always had a crush on, who teased me and treated me like I was something to be scorned.  I was someone who deserved teasing and scorn.  They wandered to my sister and her boyfriend, her kind and funny and sweet and wonderful boyfriend, who treated me like a sister and a friend.  I wanted someone like that in my life, but there was no reality in believing that could ever happen.  They wandered to my ever shrinking group of friends who I found I couldn’t really stand to be around.  My own pain, mingled with their inner drive to be popular wasn’t mixing well, besides, I couldn’t be popular.  They wandered to my hair.  I hated my hair.

I realized there were tears on my cheeks.  As the late afternoon sun began to set, the air began to bite at the tears streaks on my face.  I realized my hands were cold and I just wanted to feel the safety and warmth of home.  I slowly made my way back there.

It was then I gave up and counted myself out.  I’m not sure how old I was exactly, but I remember it as clear as it happened yesterday.  I think often on that day, the day I decided I wasn’t worth fighting for anymore, the day I gave up and started to die a little inside.

When I met him, the one who would become my husband, I had been counting myself out for years.  It had been happening for so long, I wasn’t even aware of it anymore, it had become just another facet of my personality, the one that always said to me, “You will never be enough.  You will never be okay.  You will always be ugly.  You will always hurt.  Life is pain.”

We broke up twice in the three years we dated.  Both times we found our way back to each other.  For me, it was mostly out of fear.  If I let this one go, there would never be another.  I was so desperate to be loved and wanted, I believed that came with a price.  The price was never truly being fulfilled.  The price was laying yourself down completely for the sake of the other.  I learned to pay that price, daily.  For twelve long years I woke up each morning and dropped my coins in the bank of my husband.  I thought that is how it was supposed to work.

Last night, I kissed my boys and wished them sweet dreams.  I was drowning in frustration and hurt and exhaustion.  I left the room and stood in the hallway.  The small talk between my mom and I was drowned out by my own thoughts.  I began rifling through my drawers for a pair of pants.  As I put them on and went in search of a t-shirt I asked my mom if she would mind if I went out.  Within five minutes I was dressed, my shoes were tied in their typical rabbit-ear fashion, my headphones were on, and I was off.  As I walked and jogged through these unfamiliar neighborhoods last night I felt alive and excited and ready for the future.  A dog barked its greeting and ran the length of the fence as I jogged by.  The air was crisp with fall and smelled slightly of falling leaves.  I could remember the exact moment I counted myself out of my own life, but I couldn’t remember in these last seven months when I started counting myself back in.

It’s been years and years.  There were incredible and amazing moments in those years, but the ache in my heart was the ever present burden of my life.  The idea that I should be counted out as not pretty enough or smart enough or witty enough or funny enough or just simply enough conquered and demanded my every thought.

It’s tiring living that way.

So last night, as my feet hit the pavement, as my body moved and my lungs drew breath, as my head filled with the music of these moments, I told myself that I will never count myself out again.  I will become worthy of my own love and as I have worked towards that, peace has become my friend, and peace is a much better friend than pain.  My life will be consumed by joy and love.  It’s the new promise I make to myself.  I want to own every second of my life, the joy, the pain, the peace, the sorrow.  It’s doesn’t all have to be beautiful and perfect, but it belongs to me.  The moments of pain will come and go, the sorrow will be present, but so will the happiness, the joy, the laughter.  I no longer choose to be defined by the ugly talk that has dominated my head for years and years.  I want my life to be lived.  I want to be able to say, I lived.

And so begins the new chapter of this amazing life.

The Dreaming

My dreams felt so big, and yet so simple.

I wanted love.  I wanted to share my life.  I wanted to be loved.  I wanted to see the world.

For a while, the dreams coming true seemed entirely possible.  They seemed possible with him.

There are so many moments in my life where I recall him.  Every inch of my memory is covered in him, the light spots, the dark corners, the dusty eaves, and the cobwebbed knooks – each one is covered in the memory of him.

We were so young.  There we stood, backpacks on our backs, as he attempted to navigate the huge airport with his limited Spanish.  I was afraid.  I had never travelled with him like this.  But there we stood, him, asking questions in his broken Spanish, while I looked out the window at Mexico City.  I wondered what life was like for the people in that huge city.  I wondered what it smelled like and felt like to stand on a street corner there.  Before the questions were done being formed he had grabbed my hand and we were off to our next gate, the one that would take us to the plane that would take us to Merida.

The days were so hot.  The work was so hard.  I stayed in one house and he stayed in another.  The hammocks that he loved to fall asleep in gave me a back ache and the heat felt endless.  I took the girls with me to prank the guys in the house where he was staying.  We laughed until we cried at waking up a house full of men who had fallen asleep after a hard days work.  We wandered the dusty streets of that Mexican town in the dark, listening to the soccer games that were literally alive in the living rooms around us.  We ate wonderful food and made friends despite the language barriers.  We cried as we said our goodbyes.  I was newly married, but still felt 15.  The entire world felt exciting and beautiful.

As we reunited in our hotel room after a week of sleeping apart, I looked at my young husband and felt proud of him, and tears sprang to my eyes as I realized for the first time I was seeing him, where he belonged, among people who would never be like him.  He was alive there, using his Spanish, making friends, walking the streets.

We returned again a few years later.  I had the same sense of him that time as well, that he was himself most in this foreign place.  I was more settled into him and into us by this time, but I still felt as though I was seeing him new all over again.  I remember the hotel room we had there, his sister sitting on the bed opposite me, making me laugh as he showered in the bathroom.  I fell asleep that night in his arms, the loud air conditioner blowing on us, at peace with being reunited with this man I called mine.

Seeing him like that, alive, dreaming, laughing, easy, made me desire more of that.  I didn’t see it again for a long time.  Years passed, years of schooling and work and obligations and suddenly there we were again.  Backpacks on our backs, a large foreign airport, him and I, unattached by the big things of life, navigated our way through the airport in Buenos Aires.  We were headed north, another flight, but at that moment we found an empty area of the airport.  As I settled in for a nap, resting my head on my backpack, I caught the look in his eyes.  It was there again.  Alive?  Excited?  I napped while he sat and stood and wandered.  Our final flight that day took us north, where we stayed for two months.  We had our own apartment there.  We stayed up late every night, enjoying the culture of Argentina.  We ate lots of pizza and empanadas and steak.  We walked everywhere.  We played endless hours of card games.  We drove north and saw Salta.  We saw the mountains.  We created our first son in that place, where we were unburdened by life and worry, where every day became an adventure.

Later still it was my turn to show him my world.  It was his turn to see that light come alive in my eyes.  It was my turn to show him my first love – the dusty and smoky streets of Africa.  This time we weren’t unburdened though.  We had two boys, who we learned to manage quite well as we flew, first to Amsterdam, and then onward to Kampala.  It didn’t feel that hard though, watching him walk the aisles with our one year old, or comforting our four year old as he slept.  It felt right and as I watched him discover my first love, I saw it there too, the love, the shared dreams, the hope for that place.

Our life together was spent dreaming, dreaming of those places and those people that we had the privilege to meet in our travels.  We were most alive when remembering those moments in time spent together discovering this incredible and diverse world.

I knew him then.  I know I knew him then.  I knew him in those moments when he wasn’t managing himself, when I saw in his eyes the life he was excited to be living, when I saw the unmanaged emotion and excitement and awe.  Even if I didn’t know him in any other moments, not really, I knew him then.  He was my husband and my love and my partner and my best friend.  It was easy for him to hold that position, all I had to do was remember that look in those eyes, that look, that told me he wanted to change the world and be a part of it.

My last flight didn’t take me somewhere foreign.  It brought me home, without the man I called husband for 12 years.  I stood in the airport in Santo Domingo allowing myself to cry, just one time that day.  I sat between my boys, managed drinks and snacks, backpacks, movies, music – the very beginning of my new life as a single mom.  As I sat at a table feeding them chicken in Atlanta four people commented on how brave I was for traveling with two young kids by myself.  I just looked down, willing myself to not cry, to keep it together, to appear okay, only if it was for those boys in my care.  It wasn’t bravery then, it was survival.  He stayed though, in that place where he came alive and discovered himself, he stayed and went to the beach, made a steak dinner, and had our home to himself.

As I have relived that day again and again in my head, the goodbye, the walking away from fifteen years with this man, the gathering of his children and running for cover, the leaving behind my heart, I know that even as I knew him in those moments, that even when I had him, it wasn’t the foreign soil that made his heart come alive, it was something deeper.  It was the idea that perhaps he could achieve what he wanted.  He wanted to see the world, he saw it.  He made it happen.  If that was possible, then what else was?

Sometimes I can’t imagine the torment he lived with his entire life.  Sometimes it breaks me.  Other times I am too angry to think about it.  I don’t want to imagine it because the torment that was his life became the torment that was mine.  Even as I had him, I never had him.  It’s a hard truth to understand, a hard reality to make sense of, but it’s mine.

What I have though, are my memories.  They aren’t all tainted.  My time spent with my beloved husband, in Argentina, the last of our lives together before we had kids, was the most beautiful time in our lives up to that point.  We learned about one another, we grew, we changed, we fought for one another, we even created life.  It’s a moment, a snippet, a picture captured at just the right second that made us look happy and centered and well.  I was.  Sometimes not really knowing where his heart was at the time hurts so deeply, but mostly, I know where I was when that picture was captured, and it was enough for me then, and it’s all I have now.

I spent years with a man who could never fully love me as I was.  That has broken me.  But it hasn’t removed every good thing we had together.  It doesn’t take away our precious children or the laughter, the life, the travel, the good moments we shared together.  He will always be woven into my story and many times that will cause me to weep, but many times it brings up smiles and laughter.  Even when it’s not all good, it doesn’t mean it’s all bad either, but sometimes, finding that balance is hard.

Lost?

Most nights I found myself in the kitchen.  Sometimes I had dinner planned.  Sometimes I didn’t.  There I stood though, contemplating what to feed my small family.  Often times I would stand at the window in that tiny kitchen and watch the wind blow the trees in the backyard.  It was safe.  It was familiar.  It was home.

“Can you run to the store?  I need a few things?”

“Sure, I’ll take the boys if you want me to.”

“That would be great.”

The small apartment would empty quickly and I’d be left in the silence and peace.  A few moments that were mine.  He would buckle the kids into their car seats, slide into the drivers seat and adjust the seat so he could actually fit.  I would inevitably find the seat the next morning pushed all the way back into a position that wouldn’t allow me to reach the pedals even if I tried.  It was a reminder though, of him, of our life together, of the way we made our differences work together, including his extreme height and my short stature.

In the evenings after dinner was made and eaten, we would clean up the mess and I would get the boys ready for bed as he did dishes or straightened up the small living room.  After stories and songs and prayers we would quietly close the boys bedroom door and settle into our evening.  It included conversations or movies or shows or sometimes just being in our own space yet together, listening to music or reading a book.  Life felt comfortable.  He felt comfortable.  It was something that we created together, meant to last for the duration of our lives, long or short, we did it together.

Some nights I would go out and come home to a glowing apartment, my husband there asleep in the chair, or listening to music, a look of peace and calm on his face.  Other times we’d arrive home late to my parents watching something, having spent the evening with the boys so we could be together and remember one another in that way.  Night time found us crawling into bed together, talking, reading, and falling asleep next to one another, hand in hand, curled into one another.  After many years together I couldn’t fall asleep without the sound and feel of him next to me.

I don’t know where I lost that, or if I ever truly had it.  My safety and security, my love and care, all wrapped up in a single person, the one who I created children with, the one who shared my dreams and held my heart.  I entrusted him with so much.  With everything.  Did he ever know that?  Did he see it or believe it?  Was his heart restless and hurting and frantic as my heart felt safe and peaceful and assured.

Last night I stood in the kitchen, not mine, not in my house, not filled with my stuff.  I just stood there frozen.  I was suddenly lost and scared.  I realized at that moment that the safe life I believed I was part of doesn’t exist, and it never really did.  I stood there thinking about dinner and didn’t know how to move my feet from the spot where I stood.  I just stood there.  The grief consumed me.  Seven months later, the moments of grief still consume my heart.  I stood there thinking about how I don’t cook anymore, not really.  I don’t do my children’s laundry.  The missing moments in my life, the men’s clothing that aren’t there, the meals I cooked that he loved, the children we created that he isn’t watching grow up.

Many days I don’t know how to even begin creating a life out of the pieces I have been left with.  Some days all I want to do is move forward and continue to grow and love and breathe and discover my joy.  But at night, when I climb the stairs and stand in the doorway of my room, looking at the lamp that sat in the home I shared with him for 12 years, I see emptiness.  No one is waiting for me to come to bed.  No one laughs at how I brush my teeth or fall asleep mid-sentence when I’m tired.  No one to wrap me into his arms with words of love.  No one to fall asleep with as we hold hands.  No one to pat my arm at 3am when the boys have had a nightmare with the reassurance, “I’ve got it.  Keep sleeping.”  No voice from the hallway as he takes away the terror and kisses away the fear in only a way a daddy can do it.  I crawl into the bed by myself.  I curl into a ball as I attempt to sleep without thinking of the aching loneliness that settles into my heart.

But I also know, as sure as the loneliness that is my constant companion, that the dreams and the life I lived was not shared, even the moments when I was most comfortable and believed it most assuredly.  Even in the greatest moments of my marriage, the ones that contained uncompromised joy, loud laughter, quiet looks, knowing glances, I was alone, I just hadn’t realized it yet.  Even in the quiet hours of late nights, the hand holding and laughing, the falling asleep mid-sentence, the shared dinners and calming of nightmares, I was alone.  My shared life, my comfortable love was only mine.  The love I thought we shared belonged to me alone.  The secret that consumed his heart also consumed his life, and eventually destroyed mine.

Sometimes I have no idea what to do with that, the incredible pain and grief.  Sometimes I don’t know how to even think about the life that I thought was mine.  I don’t know how to cook, or do laundry, let alone create an entirely new life, but even in the insecurity of not knowing, it’s happening.  Every minute of the day is a representation of walking further away from the deception, the grief, the sorrow, and the pain.  Each meal that is cooked, load of laundry that is washed, each night that I fall asleep alone, is a step towards a new life, even when it isn’t my choice, it is still my life.  Most days, even in the not knowing and the fear, I am moving, I am seeking to learn and grow, I am looking for the hope that was once a constant in my heart.  Most days I move and those moments of frozen panic or fear or grief, are just those, brief moments.  The rest is amazing and beautiful.  The people who have become a part of my life are amazing and beautiful.  The unexpected surprises of love and hope, of joy and peace, almost always outweigh the burden of my lost life.

Coming Home

I remember my bedroom from childhood.  It wasn’t large, but felt big enough.  The orange shaggy carpet always felt soft and smelled slightly musty as I lay on the floor listening to sad love songs of the 80’s.  The metal mini-blinds made a tinkling noise as I twisted the clear plastic rod that opened or closed them.  There was a large pink chair in the corner of the room, snatched up at a church garage sale.  It was usually covered in clothing and stuffed animals.  I rarely sank into it, even though it was intended to be my reading chair.  The large closet built into the wall that was intended for storage, became my bed, surrounded by shelves full of books and Christmas lights that made it feel warm, and soft, and easy to fall into.  Every night I would lay in wait to hear those knocks on the wall that signified Katie was just on the other side of the far wall, knocking our secret code that told me she loved me.  Every night I waited for those knocks, and every night, I would eagerly knock back, indicating my love for her too.  In the summer I would lay there under a simple flowered sheet and listen to the sound of swamp cooler in the hallway.  In the winter I would bundle up under heavy covers and watch the snow fall outside my cracked blinds.  As I grew older I would wait to hear the familiar creak of the second step from the top, that told me my sister was home from her date, or my parents had finished their movie and were coming to bed.  The floor was usually covered in clothes, shoes, books, and anything else that could easily get lost.  I lost count how many hours were spent attempting to clean that room, how many friends came in and out of it, how many tears were shed in that bed, how many Bop posters hung on those walls, first the innocent Fred Savage, and eventually graduating to the likes of Luke Perry and Jason Priestly.  That room was my haven.  Messy or clean, it was mine.

I remember laying awake endless nights.  The fear of the dark and of scary men and bad things that kept my brain active into the early light of morning.  I remember the first edges of panic I ever felt in my life, my eight year old brain had no way of managing it.  I remember the tears.  I remember standing beside my parents large water bed, watching my dad sleep, hearing my mom’s soft snores, as I shook him awake with my small hands.  I remember his arms around my small body as he carried me back to bed.  I remember the feel of his strong and capable hands on my back, rubbing and calming my fears until I felt the edges of the panic melting into sleepy oblivion.  I remember hearing his voice as he prayed my fears away.

My sister’s room was just next door.  Her walls were white and covered in little primary colored flowers.  It was always clean, meticulously so.  Everything had its place and it stood beside my room in a stark contrast, our rooms, a small glimpse into our personalities, hers calm and organized mine chaotic and messy.  How many hours did she spend trying to help me understand the merits of calm and organized?  In our junior high years her walls were covered in handmade posters screaming the name Joe in different colors and fonts.  Her first boyfriend, your typical all American kid, blonde hair blue eyed Joe.

My house, full of laughter and light, people and noise, was safe and peaceful.  I remember cold fall nights laying on my stomach in the living room – the orange velvet couch beside me, my dad in a chair, book open in his hands, his voice creating voices for Frodo and Sam and Gandalf, the brown carpet in front of my eyes, the world Tolkien so carefully crafted coming alive in my humble living room.  And the people, the people who came in and out of the house, the incredible people I’ve had the privilege of knowing in my life.  I remember the night we were pulled from our slumber as the street outside turned into a river and drove away from it, hoping for the best.

I remember looking up into the large branches of the tree, seeing my dad up there amongst the leaves, hammering and nailing away, and before the treehouse even came into being, standing on the platform that would be the floor of that house, looking out over the neighborhood, feeling the fear of that height without walls to protect me.

I remember climbing the cherry tree, walking along the garden fence and falling into the bristly raspberry bushes, swinging as high as I could go on the swingset, laying out on a towel, allowing my skin to become the perfect color of golden brown.

That house symbolized the only life I ever knew.  When I was 17, I watched as the for sale sign was posted in the front yard.  When I got into the loaded car, headed to Michigan and a I life I didn’t know, I said goodbye, and two weeks later it was sold.  I never truly came home again.

Years have passed.  That house still looks the same.  It’s missing the treehouse, but it’s still my childhood home, it still sits on that corner and occasionally I drive by and remember the childhood days spent there, in the safety of that home, that neighborhood, and that place in time.

I remember all the moments, including the ones where I dreamed of him, the man who would someday be mine.  I didn’t know what he would look like or smell like or feel like in my arms, but I wanted so badly to believe he was out there somewhere dreaming of me too.  For a long time I prayed for him.  I hoped for him.  I tried to imagine the life he was living somewhere out there without me.  I wondered what his dreams and hopes were.  I wondered if I already knew him or if he was someone I had yet to meet.

I’m home again.  Only this time I’m 35.

My reality doesn’t include childhood and teenage dreams.  It is full, full of two active boys and my concerns and worries about them.  It is full of figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing.  The man I dreamed of in my teenage years when I knew nothing of responsibility or real fear, has come into my life and gone from it.  After safely tucking my kids into bed at night, after kissing their foreheads and wondering about their dreams, I retire to my room.  The walls aren’t covered in posters of actors, there is no comfy reading chair or twinkle lights that lull me to sleep.  My sister isn’t just in the next room, she’s in the next town, putting her own children to bed, talking with her husband, making plans of her own.  My parents are just down the hall, but I wouldn’t think to wake them with my fears anymore.  My father’s arms are no longer enough to rid my mind of its fears.  But, I’m home.  It’s safe.  It’s comfortable.  It’s all I need right now.  But, the nights are hard.  I lay awake, listening to the rush of the nearby trains, the muffled cries and snores of my boys, and my thoughts.  It’s almost like I’ve come full circle, and yet I have the baggage of sorrow and the wisdom that comes with age and a broken heart.  I am no longer that 17 year old girl who dreamed of her prince and who hoped her house wouldn’t sell.

But sometimes, I think of him.  Whoever he is.  Wherever he is.  I have to hang on to the hope that teenage girl had, that my life will once again be full, and that I will find love.  I sometimes find myself praying for him, whoever he is.  I pray I will find him and I pray he will find me.  I pray he will love me in all my flaws and frailty.  I pray he will love my children.  I pray I will love his, if they exist.  I am not a child, but sometimes those dreams from childhood live on, even with all my adult conditions.  I lay in my room, in my parent’s house, surrounded by safety and security, and I hope for my future.

The Closet

I had found my way back to the closet.  My heart was pounding and my head was hurting.  I felt like I was struggling for breath.  I look at the wreckage of that huge closet, the dirty clothes, the pile of clean clothes needing to be put away, the shelves piled high with stuff I had yet to find a home for in my new home.  In that moment of hysteria a glimmer of normalcy crept through as I thought about how thankful I was for that room sized closet that housed all the ugliness of my life that I had nowhere else to put.

I crumpled to the floor.  The panic was rising in my chest.  I lay on a heap of clothes and began sobbing.  I couldn’t stop the tears from coming.  The fear was making my chest hurt.  The adrenaline was coursing carelessly through my veins making me shaky and hysterical.  The cool tile under my legs felt foreign and hard.  My life felt that way.  My love felt that way.

I’m not sure how long I lay there before he walked in.  It was a while.  He looked at me there my own messy heap laying on a pile of dirty clothes.  He stared at me for a moment.  I closed my eyes.  I felt him kneeling beside me.  I could smell his familiar breath as he gathered me up.  I could feel his familiar arms as he enclosed me in them.  I could hear the beat of his heart as he pulled my head into his large chest and began stroking my hair.  I could hear his voice whispering in my ear, “It’s going to be okay.  We will figure this out.  Stop your crying.  I’m here.”  I could feel each stroke of his hand through my hair.  I could feel myself melting into him, believing the promises and I could feel my heart settling.  Slowly my breath came back to me.  My heart settled into the place it belonged.  I felt safe and protected, for that instant, it was all I ever needed.

I opened my eyes and realized my mistake.  He was still standing over me, his height blocking the light, staring down at me with contempt from eyes I no longer recognized.  My sorrow was instantly replaced by dread.  The cold feeling I had become so familiar with consumed me, the heat of my sorrow was instantly replaced with ice.

“What is your problem?”

“I’m scared.  I don’t know how to do this.”

“Do what?  I told you we’re fine.”

“But we’re not.  Nothing is.  I don’t know how you’re going to find your way back to me.”

“I’m here, what else do you need?”

“I need who you were?  What happened to you?”

“Shut up.  You’re so dramatic.”

“I just don’t know how to undo this life.  I don’t know how to keep it together.  I don’t know anything.  Why can’t you hold me?  Why can’t you find me?  Why do you hate me?”

Nothing changed on his face beyond a slight flicker at the edge of his lips.  He kicked his foot out and struck me lightly on the bottom of mine as he walked out the door.  I lay there. Cold. Unmoving. Imagining my dream, that I was in his arms as he helped calm the storm around me.  What happened to that?  Where was he?

The tingling in my arm alerted me I had been there a long time.  I slowly pulled my body off the heap of dirty clothes and stood.  My now long hair was matted from the tears, a feeling I hadn’t grown used to, long hair, brushing my face, getting tangled in my tears.  I brushed it annoyingly out of my face.  I took a breath and as I stepped out of the closet door I said the words I never allowed myself to say before, “My husband is gay.”

I stood in the dim hallway deciding whether to go right or left.  I took a turn to left and headed to the bathroom where I stood facing myself in the mirror.  I looked at my sunken eyes, darkened and hollow.  I stared at the mop of hair it had taken me so long to grow.  I looked at the cheekbones of my face and the small dimple in my chin.  Nothing felt right.  Nothing looked right.  I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I had last slept more than an hour.  When did I last eat?  The sour taste in my mouth made me constantly sick.

All the thoughts of the last month that had been tumbling dangerously and carelessly around in my head started to make sense and become organized.  The missing hours, the excuses, the anger, the mean words, the vacant expression in his eyes, the secrets and lies.  He had already told me.  I watched him sob as he promised to cut off his new relationships.  I watched as nothing changed.  I watched him sleep peacefully, more than he ever had before.  I watched as the life we had worked so hard for became a joke to him.  I watched every single piece fall apart, the pitcher that represented our lives, full of the things we had poured into it together, shattered on the ground.  It happened in slow motion, each and every fracture and break seemingly took hours as the dreams of our lives spilled out and were absorbed into the dry ground.  I was there watching it, kneeling beside it, desperately trying gather up the dreams as they slipped through my fingers.

Five words escaped my lips that day, “How do I do this?”

Nearly seven months have passed now from that day.  I couldn’t forsee this day.  I couldn’t imagine it.  I didn’t know how to.  That day in the mirror I was stuck in my fear and longing and anger and sorrow.  I didn’t recognize myself or my life or the man I gave everything to.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it any differently than how I had always seen it.

Each step I have taken these last seven months have led to freedom.  Somedays the freedom is hard fought.  Other days it comes easily.  I can breathe.  I can dream.  I can hope.  When I was with him I forgot that I could do those things.  I lost sight of those things for so long, years and years spent in fear and in pain and in wondering.  You see, I knew.  Even when I couldn’t acknowledge it.  Even when I didn’t want to see it.  Even when it was right in front of me and I chose to close my eyes, I knew.  And because I knew, I fought.  I fought with everything I was.  I fought for that man.  I went to therapy and learned to love differently.  I apologized for my mistakes and forgave him for his, even when he didn’t want it.  I continued to hope and dream and fight, believing if I kept pushing and moving and pushing and moving that he would be okay.  That he would be enough.  That I would be enough.  I lost myself though.  I lost who I was supposed to be.  The fight was all I knew.  I lost relationships and pushed people away.  I was angry.  I gained weight, and more weight.  I started looking down.  Eye contact hurt because I was terrified other people would see my private pain.  Even before his own words of acknowledgement, I knew.  My world was small and closed and dark and terrifying and becoming more so.  The people who loved me so much saw the changes.  Because of that, I pushed them away.  My fear was all I knew.

Those very people were there when I finally fell.  They saw the fear and darkness and were helpless against it.  So was I.  The prison of my life was a private hell I can’t begin to express with the right words.  The day I reclaimed my freedom was the most scary and dark day of my life, but because I did, each day has progressively gotten lighter and easier.  The fear, the aching hole inside me, the sorrow, it’s gone.  And so is he.  Until I left, I couldn’t correlate the two, it felt wrong and ugly.  Today, there is no question the two correlate.

My life is so full now.  It’s full of unexpected people and surprises.  It’s not everything I dream for it to be, but it doesn’t matter because I’m on the path and I’m only looking back when it serves to teach me and grow me.  I look in the mirror now and I still feel unrecognizable, but it’s because for the first time in my life I like what I see.  My eyes are no longer looking down, they aren’t sunken and hollow, they are bright and constantly looking for growth and change and opportunity.  My entire soul is aching for that.

Today, I feel fall in the air.  I feel the promise of crisp nights and cool mornings.  I watch as the light outside changes.  The air is ready for change.

So am I.

One Year

Our bodies lay together on the high and surprisingly comfortable air mattress.  We had just tucked the boys into bed after a very full day and late night.  As I kissed their sweet and small foreheads I couldn’t believe the day was upon us.  I watched the tears fall from my mom’s cheeks as she stroked their soft hair and tell them how much she loved them and would miss them, for the entirety of their short lives we had lived just two miles from Grandpa and Grandma’s doorstep.  Their eyes were sleepy, but aware of the grand change facing our lives.  Our two weeks of time at my parent’s house had come to a quick close. 

I rolled toward him and looked in his face. 

“It’s here.” I whispered, hearing the fear and excitement in my voice.

He smiled and pulled me into the curve of him.  I heard his soft snore begin and lay there listening to the sounds of the house, feeling the air blow on my face, wondering if I would sleep at all.

The summer had been full of trips to Lagoon, where Patrick learned he loved roller coasters, and Henry decided he wasn’t as daring as his big brother.  The summer was full of packing and prioritizing and getting rid of.  The summer was full of travel, a trip to his hometown, ten days in Santo Domingo picking out our new home.  The summer was full of goodbyes and sorrow.  I didn’t know how to process it.  I couldn’t believe the lifelong dream was happening.  I didn’t know how to pack.  I didn’t know how to say goodbye.  I didn’t know how to walk my boys through it.  Even though it took so long to finally get to this point, it also happened so fast. 

I lay there in the dark, listening to my husband’s breathing, and thinking about the path that brought us here.  I remembered our trips to Mexico, I thought about all the people we had met there. 

I thought of our two months in Argentina and remembered with a smile on my face the cold apartment we lived in, the late nights, the many pizza dinners, the endless games of cards, hearing the city roar to life with each World Cup game, the fear and excitement of buying a pregnancy test and the utter joy at seeing that even in a place so foreign to us, that we were going to become a family of three.  I remember exactly where he was standing and the look on his face when we saw the window on that test turn positive.  I didn’t think I had ever seen such joy.  His smile will forever be etched in my memory.  

I remembered our trip to Uganda, with our four year old and one year old in tow.  I remember the feeling of finally arriving home as we left the dark airport that night.  I remember the thrill I felt as smelling my Africa again and hearing it again.  I remember the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we ate at 2AM after arriving there.  I remember watching him come alive as we saw more and more opportunities for him there.  I remember watching his face as he discovered the place the captured my heart so many years ago. 

I remembered our sorrow when those dreams fell apart.  I never thought my heart would feel as cold and betrayed as it did the day we were told we were no longer to include ourselves on the dreams we found in Uganda.  I remember laying in bed and sobbing together and repeating over and over to him as I watched him break, “God has a plan!  God has a plan!”  I remember lying together in our bed holding each other and crying…

“If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?”

That night in the dark it seemed as if all the joy and sorrow mingled into one another.  It was happening.  Despite all odds the dream was here.

The next morning we woke our bleary eyed children and dressed them for the long day ahead.  Our eighteen suitcases came out of the cars way easier than they had gone in.  I sat in the bright airport that early morning watching as they searched through those suitcases and prayed they would all make it.  I felt numb and weird and sad and excited. 

Too soon we were saying our final goodbyes and heading through security.  Our day was spent hustling through airports and managing the kids.  We arrived, a mere twelve hours later, in the large city of Santo Domingo.  Our new home.  Our new life. 

Just six weeks later I sat in the apartment scared and uneasy.  I realized these feelings were going to stay for a long time.  For a few weeks now he was missing time.  I couldn’t figure out this new life and I felt like I was doing it on my own.  Where was he?  Why was he always missing time?  Why didn’t it make sense to me?  I explained it away.  It was culture shock and loneliness and boredom.  It was me, not him.  Missing time, making excuses, never being where we said he would be when he said he would be there became a normal for him that I never quite adjusted to.

He started talking about the friends he was meeting.  He was always late coming home.  He stopped texting me.  He stopped calling me.  He was always in touch.  What was happening?  When he was home he was distant and cold.  He never wanted to spend time together.  He made fun of my language learning and my attempts to use it.  He was often angry at my fear and inability to merge with this new culture.

Even later still, family voicing concern over his actions and behavior.  Feeling sick.  Feeling scared.  The facetime from a loved one that revealed he was not where he was saying he was, or with who he said he was with.  The revelation from him, the new people he claimed to love.  My shattered and broken heart.  Not knowing how to fix it.  The words and never having the right words to respond with,

“I stopped loving you a long time ago.” 

“Just leave me.” 

“If you leave me, I’ll divorce you.”

Watching as money disappeared like water, wondering if I would have enough food to get the kids through the next few days.  Being unable to eat.  Being unable to sleep.  Feeling physically sick all the time.  Hating him.  Loving him.  Hating him.  Loving him.  Crying.  Every single night sitting in the hollow bathroom and sobbing silently into my hands.  Where was he?  He was always gone.  The fights.  My desperate attempts to get him to see me and love me and need me again. 

Watching as he walked out that final day.  Exactly six months later, to the very day, that we had arrived on foreign soil with a dream we had dreamed together for so long, he was gone and I was leaving.

An entire year later.  I’m sitting here in the same house I was in last year.  Last year this night was full of laughter and tears and fun, and dreams, oh the dreams we had.  Last year it was a final goodbye to a life I had always known.  Last year this night was full of grief, but also of excitement and joy.

This year, it’s a Tuesday night.  We had a quiet dinner.  I tucked the boys into bed by myself, my husband far far away.  I spent the afternoon discussing terms of the divorce with him.  There was no, “I love you.” at the end of that call.  He is a stranger, in so many ways, I never knew him.  There were no tears of goodbye tonight.  Tomorrow, Patrick will wake up and join the rest of his class in reciting the pledge and eating lunch and running at recess.  Tomorrow I will begin looking for a job. 

Tomorrow marks a year, an anniversary.  It doesn’t mark the day we left for the Dominican Republic with our dreams intact, for me, what it marks is the beginning of the end.  Tonight, I don’t know how to breathe through it.  Tomorrow also marks six months to the day that my entire life fell apart, the day I said enough and he didn’t stay to fight.  Six months ago I stood in that apartment with only one thought in my head, “Get us out of here.  Please God help me do this.”

I’ve now been back here as long as we lived there.  My life here has gone so quickly.  Each day is full and as I go to sleep each night, I know the next day will be equally full.  It is how I have survived.  My time in Santo Domingo did not feel like six months, it felt like twenty years.  Each day moved slower than the previous, each day, my own private hell.

Tomorrow I will be surrounded by love.  Today, I am surrounded by love. 

But, tonight, remembering a year ago, I miss him.  I miss my hopes and dreams with him.  I miss the moments that wove together to make days and weeks and months and years.  New dreams will come.  But tonight I miss what I had.