My Shitty Husband

I didn’t realize it was my (former?) anniversary until I saw it on Facebook. “Three years ago today . . .” it said. And there was a picture of so many of us, my people, huddled together in and around and on top of the outhouse that my then fiancé carefully crafted so that it would be useful at camp after we used it as a photo booth.

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I couldn’t find him in the picture.

I thought the hard part of divorce was the decision. I remember a nearly full year of agonizing and crying and mourning. Of walking through every possible scenario to save whatever was left. Then one day, I wasn’t mourning anymore. I was done crying and done hypothesizing; the unraveling of our union proceeded with remarkable ease.

But here I am, five months later, and I realize that the hard part is NOW.

The hard part is when you miss your really shitty husband.

The hard part is when you have cramps like Vesuvius and your kid is surly and you think you’ve failed at raising him AND the fucking dishes never end, man. Never end. You just want to read your book, walk the dog, go to fucking yoga, man. You realize that there is no one else to make the coffee, and no matter how shitty a person is, if they bring you coffee in the morning? You remember what that feels like. You still wake up some days and roll over, thinking that a hot cup of coffee will be right beside you.

Even when your shitty spouse seems to do nothing more than make life difficult, there is someone there to yell at. Someone who, for better or worse, knows the only way to stop the tears, catch your breath.

Our life together was not healthy or fun, and the rare good times were too far apart to even create the illusion of happiness. But he was . . . there. Even if the burden of home fell on me, there was another human around. In Case of Emergency.

As a teacher, I spend the end of August and beginning of September coiling, coiling, coiling so tightly that I actively fear the release. I know that something is next, but I’m never quite sure what. It could be a weekend of sleeping, a thrown coffee mug, or a midnight drive. But usually, it’s just a couple of hours of uncontrollable sobbing. (I blame society, not nature, for the record.)

Maladaptive, yes, but there are few people in the universe, who can both push you over the edge and soften your fall. My shitty husband could do both.

 

And I miss him this week.

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Recipe for Numbered Days

Wake early. Make coffee. Notice the sunlight warming your shoulders through the kitchen window.

Choose one album whose story you can follow as you putter: cook, start laundry, find a million dirty cups. Press play. Feel your shoulders, hips, stockinged feet begin to move.

Pull your snarled hair up and secure. Smile at your reflection – a slash of white, earned, you have no intention of coloring.

Turn on the oven. Peel strips of bacon and layer them on a cookie sheet. Place them in the oven and forget about them. Heat two cast iron skillets on the stove. Ease the pages of your red, Betty Crocker cookbook binder open; they are stuck together with drops buttermilk, smears of eggy fingers, years-old flour dust.

Triple the recipe:

1 = 3 eggs + one for good measure

1 c. flour = 3

1 c. buttermilk = 3

1 c. blueberries = entire bag

and so on.

wash – crack – sing – stir – sizzle – flip 

Eat pancakes over the stove. Ignore the hot blueberries burn your tongue. To feed the masses, you must first feed yourself.

Drink your coffee while you listen to the last song of the album. Realize that this moment is the first song in yours.

Wake the one, two, three, four teenaged boys inhabiting your house – one yours, three borrowed. Listen to the thud of elephant steps on the stairs, laughter, guitars.

Revel in your status as ‘that house’ and realize ‘that mom’ always has to do a fuck ton of dishes.

Let the boys – paradoxes all of them – scruffy and smelly and intelligent and articulate and infinitely scatalogical – commandeer the music. Cock your head and really listen to the clarinet solo. Be impressed.

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Watch the food disappear.

Send them outside. “Pitter patter, boys. Go make music.”

Pour another cup of coffee. Sit on the front steps.

Look. Listen. Feel. Remember.

 

xoxo

Heather

 

Thursday

And if I loved you Wednesday,

Well, what is that to you?

I do not love you Thursday —

So much is true. 


And why you come complaining

Is more than I can see. 

I loved you Wednesday, — yes — but what

Is that to me? 

— ESVM



Oh, friends. 

You heard me say, yesterday, how I did not believe in so very many things: fate, true love, kismet. But just maybe something was at play today. 

I have slept, eaten, and read well. I drank too much coffee and ate an enormous breakfast; I took a long, hot bath and fell asleep-with wet hair- in my bathrobe. I woke up at lunchtime and ventured into West Stockbridge for coffee. I finished some reading, had a lovely visit with Joel from the Cali-style mobile store which included a tour of the factory. I bought a felt puppy for Baby Fern. It was gorgeous, sunny and sparkly and clear and warm. 

I drove by the Millay property at Steepletop and realized that I should hike today — storms are in the forecast for tomorrow. The property is situated off a three-ish mile dirt road. 

  
  

  I ditched the Subaru, threw on my backpack and hit the trail. 

 

  I had no idea what to expect. 

one of my favorites – look it up and read the entire thing

  These poetry placards line the trail. 

precisely, Vincent
 
  
 
The Millay Poetry Trail

  

 I had no idea 1. How long the trail was or 2. That the grave sites were situated at the end of it. I have unrealistic expectations for a husband simply from reading about Eugen. He once said if his wife wrote one good poem a year, then he had done his job. 

Mama Millay

  

I wrote to a friend: “I am sitting in a family graveyard.” I sat for awhile. I gathered stones and stacked them next to others. I talked to myself, to the trees, to one very loud bird, and to Edna and Eugen. 

 

I was passed by a young gentleman runner. He caught back up later and walked me to the end of the trail. He was a composer, one of the artists-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. More on that later. 

  

I reached the lower parking lot and gathered my keys when I saw a man open the shed door. “Do you work here?” I asked him. He replied “yes,” and I asked permission to walk the house grounds. He smiled and showed me to the main office. Martha gave me a sticker so I could be official, and Michael, who I learned is the staff gardener, pointed me in the direction of the main house. Then he said “oh, I’ll show you some of the highlights.”

  

  

  

Millay’s last writing cabin

 An hour later, we finished back at the main house. 

The new caretaker was moving into the apartment Norma and Charlie Ellis (Millay’s sister and BIL) shared, and he and Michael talked as I prepared to get into my car. “Do you want to see it?” He asked, and I knew I was about to meet my new best friend or get murdered. I weighed my options and figured that if I had to go, this was a pretty spot to bite it in. My mother will be proud. 

It was bright and warm, and I walked the same floors that Edna walked when she used the apartment to write in while her shed was being rebuilt. His excitement was palpable. He knew how special this place was. 

I stayed awhile longer and we sat by the stream sharing Stories. This new caretaker, Prescott, had a lifetime of knowledge not just about the property, but the entire area. We acknowledged the rare gift of today, and of Millay’s spirit – connecting Maine and Steepletop yet again. 

More tomorrow. 

Xoxo

Heather

Got That Fire

For myriad reasons, I needed a break. Some privacy. A solo ride. 

Naturally, I decided to drive to New York to make this happen. We know I don’t do things the easy way. 

  

While I did really need to get the fuck out of town, the most valid reason I needed to leave was to write a paper I had been saving to write during April break. Virginia Woolf famously said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction;” and I can argue that this must happen in order for a woman to do, well, anything. I knew I would not accomplish anything surrounded by animals and laundry. I needed to escape. 

I booked myself a room at The Inn at Green River in Hillsdale, New York for its free wi-fi and breakfast and its proximity to my main event: Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Austerlitz, NY home at Steepletop. Total home run. The innkeeper emailed me this morning to check in, and she met me at the door when I arrived (after an eerily easy and beautiful drive). The inn is settled in a little valley in the Berkshires. It’s early spring and the trees are just beginning to bud. It’s my favorite time. You can see the bones of the trees and the landscape but everything is softened by that smoky fuzz of budding limbs. Nature’s airbrush? Maybe. I can barely keep my eyes on the road, and I am completely enamored with this place. “No wonder she (Millay) moved here,” I said to myself as I drove back from dinner, “I want to move and I just arrived.”

  
 

A graveyard outside my bedroom
 
 
I really hate this.
 
 
Graveyard after dinner
 
  
 
grilled eggplant with charred tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella
 

After I settled in (washed my face and read in my underwear for an hour) I got dressed and ventured into town for dinner. Innkeeper Deb suggested Old Mill, a pub/bistro in Egremont, and since I do enjoy not having to make decisions for myself, I went with that. The drive into town was all hills and valleys and old homes and cows. I waved to them, as always. 

I sat at the bar flanked by two older gentlemen, both engrossed in their phones. I was served quickly, olives and bread straws and a Sheffield Big Elm lager (delicious- I had two), and the place was obviously banging for a Wednesday night. I pulled my glasses and book out of my bag and settled in with the menu. I noticed a quotation at the bottom of the hand-written specials menu: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf. I opened my book, a worn, blue, paperback copy of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and found the same passage on page 18. 

I ordered a small plate for dinner knowing full well I didn’t want leftovers but I also wanted dessert. It was good, but oily for a grilled dish. What the eggplant lacked, though, was made right with strawberry shortcake and conversation.

strawberry shortcake and Virginia Woolf

Once the early dinner rush subsided, the bartender looked up and asked me what part of Maine I was from. We hit all requisite conversation pieces (fishing, weather) and got to the reason for my visit. I told her about my grad paper and my sort-of Millay pilgrimage and THAT is where it good good. 

My bartender? Her grandmother was one of Millay’s roommates at Vassar – THE Charlotte (Charlie) Babcock mentioned in Nancy Milford’s biography of ESVM, Savage Beauty. 

Now I am not a believer in kismet or fate or true love or destiny, but the whole situation practically shimmered. I half expected to ride home on a unicorn. 

sheeeeit.

I’ve already finished outlining my paper. And here I am. Having a terrible time, drinking wine and talking to you while I sit by the fire. 
Xoxo
Heather

Not Quite What I Expected

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Here’s a throwback piece from last summer. Because I am thinking of summer and baseball season and the sheer improbability that I am the mother of a fifteen-year-old.

June 3, 2015

I woke up this morning and peeled off the sticker to show the start day. I covered up Sunday with Wednesday, the seven days of each week feeling exactly like the number of parenting days I have left.

The afternoon became sunny, with the haze of blackflies that signifies early June in Maine. The boys lost, again, but it was less painful for all of us this time around. They piled into my car, one seatbelt short, and joked as the two skinniest ones strapped in together. We decide to stop at Dairy Queen, me and the four uniform-clad middle school boys. They smelled of spring: sweat and bug spray and hair gel and dirt, and I realized that I can count the days I will have like this.

 

I think back to the interminable years of early-middle childhood. The ones where I skipped over sentences to finish the bedtime book sooner, or when I was on the couch reading instead of playing Lego. The parenting hourglass seemed full, heavy and oppressive; now it is no longer top-heavy, and the sand is moving faster, faster, faster and I hold my breath willing it to stop.

It is June, the school year is winding down, and the enormity of life hits me like the proverbial wall in the last four miles of a marathon. Except – I’m not ready for this to be over. My legs are fresh and I JUST hit my stride. But I can see the trajectory now: instead of arguing over too much screen time and the dangers of drinking soda, we will be talking about grades, drinking, drugs; learning to drive, safe and respectful sex, SATs; choosing a college, a career, and finding time to visit. Like love in a John Green novel, my parenting days have unfurled slowly, then all at once.

I placed the small, yellow pill on my tongue and swallowed dry; knowing this was the right choice, but mourning what might have been. My imaginary minivan, Disney vacations, and family meetings; the loudest cheering section for every soccer game, comically lost and forgotten siblings; and the sweet, slow burn of controlled chaos. Moving seamlessly from parenting to grandparenting with too many animals, my husband and I having just enough time for a quick grope as we pass in the kitchen.

My parenting time has been quiet, if not lonely. In solo parenting, you are The One: the designated worrier, disciplinarian, parent-teacher conference goer, and tucker-inner. If you go down – no one is there to lift you up. And that is okay. It is okay for our kids to see us as humans. We learn to apologize and explain. We become kinder to ourselves and to others. We know that everyone has a story.

I never planned on being mom to an only, and maybe there will be more. Eventually.  My decision to be done, for now, is a cross section of pragmatism, biology, and acceptance; acknowledging that another, also rich, life is possible even if it is not the one I had imagined.

No one told me about divorce diarrhea.

Warning: Anyone with significant bowel issues or weak stomachs – walk away now.

oatmeal dog

I’ve had enough friends get divorced to know what to dread and what to look forward to. Or, I thought I did. I fully expected to begin crying at any time for any reason, to drop some of the 20 lbs I gained over the last few years (thank you Divorce Diet), and to vacillate between benevolent understanding and the red hot fury of Mount Vesuvius. I’m comfortable with utterly unpredictable urges for loud music, general violence, or watching Disney movies and sobbing. It happens.

But no one told me about Divorce Diarrhea.

I may not be eating much these days, but when I do? Let’s just say that once I signed my name on that very important line, everything just kind of, loosened up. Is it instead because I am forcing myself to eat a bowl of oatmeal every morning? Maybe.

And I know. I KNOW that this is not what you want to hear right now. But if someone had warned me? I would have prepared.

imodium

All I know, is that I wish I had known I would, after paying the requisite $120 for a divorce in Maine, become intimately familiar with every public bathroom in the greater Bangor area. That I would be in the middle of a lesson on critical theory when I feel like Taco just unleashed the brown note. That I would be writing a blog post about poop.

Consider yourself warned, friends. If there is anything else you forgot to tell me? Please. Tell me now. In the meantime, I’m going to go make some chicken and rice.

xoxo

Heather

Aftershocks

A post in which I use a tired metaphor because my brain is tired and I can’t really think of anything else.

If I were a geologist, I would have seen the earthquake coming. Unless it’s one of those disaster movies (why do I love them so much?!) where the fancy ass scientists don’t recognize the warning signs and only the nerdy crazies know what’s coming but nobody listens to them. In that case, someone would have noticed, but I digress.

I didn’t.

I should have. (Shit. Does that make me the obtuse and narcissistic scientist? Let’s pretend no.)

I barely got out in time. I am, if we’re sticking with this metaphor, still driving as the ground crumbles behind my back tires. But we all know that I will make it. You all know that that dusty truck ALWAYS drives toward the rainbow.

But now I recognize pieces of my life are beginning to settle into old and new places.

I am consumed with hope simply because it has been so long.

It’s itching at my clavicles and my heels. It was there all along.

This is new. Before, I drove and sobbed and contemplated and reckoned carefully. I am sure I am not finished driving and sobbing and contemplating, but it is no longer ALL.

And the aftershocks are coming, I know. I am going to do just what I always want my characters to do: keep my running shoes on, pack water, look up.

xoxoxo

Heather