Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 53 years old. I spent the entire weekend with people and missing people who clearly love me and who I love so much. I spent the weekend
I spent the weekend doing familiar birthday things, Going to the Lyndhurst craft fair as I have done for decades (maybe half the artists this time, different layout, timed ticketing, all due to covid restrictions) stressing out from all of the unknowns (known and unknown, thank you D. Rumsfeld) wanting so much for normalcy (but what is “normal”, anyway? I certainly don’t have a fucking clue) feeling so much that I have to explain even though I know I don’t It seems like all I have been doing for the past three and a half years is explaining and explaining and explaining because honestly I don’t understand any of it. Just when I think I do I get caught off guard and none of it makes sense again.
I suppose I’m not explaining to others so much as to myself.
I miss all of the things that we talked about, all of those things that we never did. All of the ways we responded to each other, all of the good, all of the terrible. The contrast, I think, the contrast is what’s killing me now. i do not know if I can take being loved this way.
I can say things out loud and I can say things out loud and not worry about feeling stupid for saying them. Being made to feel stupid for saying them. I can say things out loud and not worry about I can say things out loud and not worry about being instantly and immediately criticized. I can say things out loud and not worry about who might be on my side.
I know I know for sure I know now that you loved me but I didn’t then. I never knew for sure. I never knew from one minute to the next. You would rescind and retract your love like the outgoing tide. Snatch it away from me, away from my
craven, grasping, grubby little paws
I want to forgive you for saying these things to me. I want to forgive you for this so much.
How can I miss you so much and still be so angry at the things you did to me? That we did to each other.
I told your sister once that I never really had an accurate sense of your feeling for me, not that I felt I could believe anyway. That I always thought you thought I was stupid and not enough and too much all at once. That now I can look at the last things you wrote, and know. I can look at all the small lovelinesses you left behind. I can look at those things and know that they are real, they are proof. Not soon enough to be able to enjoy with you, no.
The very desperate need to hold onto them
((craven, grasping, grubby little paws)screaming to the sky to talk to you for you to hear me
I am trying so hard to do everything I can to be well. I am still so I am still so unwell but I don’t feel crushed by having to hold up every other damn thing anymore if only because I have given up on everything it seems)
I can look at the small lovelinesses that you left and see them for the huge gestures that they were. Everything is relative.
I can see the unexplored and forever unknown possibility of us becoming better to each other, to ourselves. Knowing how difficult it was even in the very best of us knowing I would not be this person if you were still alive proving my progress to the memory of a dead man wanting so much to escape your critical eye, your devastating words and yet wanting to show you that I am okay I am not okay.
Yesterday was my birthday. I felt loved, and cherished, and adored, and so sad for what we never had. If you could see how people treat me now. If you could see how people love me now and aren’t afraid to say, to show. I know you would, too.
I look at this it looks like a cookie i wanna eat it I look at this and I think you might have liked it. Like really liked it. It has that stone boulder-type look that you loved you made your file folders and icons all have it It has that riveted, homemade robot-type look to it that wonky, wabi-sabi ancient technology look. something you could have unearthed on a dig or found in our backyard, sticking half-up out of the dirt. You can see my fingerprints in it, for now. You can see the literal hand of the artist. The linen cloth I use to protect both surfaces above and beneath.
I had to come forward this far. this far. Three years. I had to come forward this far to make something I truly think you would like.
I think so much that you would like it.
but why am I trying so desperately to please my dead husband?
For someone who lost her virginity at the edge of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (1982) to a boy she loved, as much as a 14-year old girl just coming into her bipolar disorder can love anyone, including herself (heya, Gregg!) without much sex ed at all (I used to sneak peeks at my parents’ copy of The Joy Of Sex when babysitting — so much hair everywhere!), birth control wasn’t a subject discussed in our house. It was, however, discussed amongst my friends in middle school and high school, at least to the point where we’d arrange trips to “the mall” (conveniently located along the same bus route as Planned Parenthood). We lied about our ages and didn’t share much ooey-gooey sex stuff the way my friends group does now but then again, this was the eighties and “Like A Virgin” was top of the charts with all its mixed messages.
What I did know, what I always knew was that I had some seriously conflicting feelings about having children. On the one hand, I felt expected to go to a good college, get a degree, get married to a husband with a good job. Have a house, two kids, the dog, and a cat. Join the country club. Etc. (Newsflash: I don’t have a degree, I’ve divorced two husbands and outlived the third one, the house is in foreclosure, no dog, two cats. You can guess about the country club.)
On the other hand, I really didn’t want kids. Didn’t feel anything but frustration at the idea of trying to reason with something unreasonable. Even now, I hear babies crying, in the supermarket usually, that newborn caterwaul, that inconsolable howling and something inside me twists so painfully, as if the wails were coming from me, some primal, unfettered demand for attention. Because I have let those cries loose as an adult, usually in the privacy of my car with the stereo blasting and the windows shaking. Screaming into my pillow, sobbing and heaving in exhaustion. Overtaken by dysphoria and grief and depression and pushed past the point of clarity, of sanity. Of reality.
I got pregnant at 15 (heya, Pete!), bent over a snowy rock in the woods. Consensual, subpar. No condom, no Pill. Stupid, horny, most definitely stoned kids. I felt like I knew that I was pregnant when he came. I mean. Has anyone else ever felt that and been right? Like a godsdamn bell went off. I don’t remember when I realized I was late, but I knew what the ept was going to say before I used it. I went with at least one and probably two friends to Planned Parenthood, tested positive. Made an appointment for an abortion at another clinic. Decided that the best idea was to just tell Pete that I needed $65 from him “to take care of business”. He looked at me and knew what it was for, that it was his half. I don’t remember if he apologized, maybe he did. Probably. I probably responded, “don’t be sorry, just get me the money.” There was never any question not even for a second about what I would do. I was fifteen, couldn’t keep a clean bedroom to save my life (still true), how on earth could I be adult enough to be a literal slave to something for the rest of my life? I resented walking the dog half the time and she was the sweetest thing on four feet. Gymnastics would be over for me, I’d never have the life I wanted. Besides, if I was so good at getting pregnant, I could do it on my own terms if I really wanted to.
I remember two of my girlfriends going with me, S and J, might have been as many as three. It was a rough day. An early Saturday morning. Giving some false information at the desk but mostly accurate. Being told that since I was under 18, I needed a family member to consent. Yeah, I don’t think so. A quick, scuffled conference later, I found a pay phone, called my best guy friend R, who looked enough like me to pass as a cousin. He was 18, was a living angel, and came down to the clinic at somewhere north of 9am on a Saturday.
I remember being afraid of the pain. No remorse. A terrifying box of opportunity sealed shut forever. The nurse was comforting, the doctor terse. There was no levity in the room, in that place. No one was carefree there. I left something of myself there besides the clump of unwanted cells. One version of myself was gone.
We all went back to the house that R shared with his brother. He put me in his bed, spooned me until I fell asleep. I remember crying from relief. I’m pretty sure we had ice cream and pizza later, or maybe I’m making that up. Maybe it was Chinese. Pete still owes me five bucks; he only came up with $60. I ran into him when I was with Gary once. I didn’t introduce them.
I got on The Pill as soon as I could, stayed on for years, sometimes switching to a diaphragm (ew, gross), sometimes a contraceptive film (frustrating and gross for oral sex), until I was married to my first, sociopath husband (heya, Jonathan, you piece of shit). I know exactly when I got pregnant. The first of May, an “early birthday present” gee, thanks). It was the only time we had sex after our honeymoon in September. He was an abusive, violent, blackout alcoholic. When I went to the doctor in the rural Virginia town where we lived, they congratulated me. I looked at them and asked “Why? I’m getting rid of it.” You would have thought I’d announced I was a cannibal. I briefly considered the ridiculous idea that maybe a baby could fix the nightmare that was my marriage. Of course it couldn’t; it never does. Even when the husband isn’t a homicidal, deeply closeted, narcissist. The night everything changed was during a drunken blackout. He admitted to having killed one of our cats. On purpose.
We were living in New York by then, my parents were separated. I’d told my mother that I didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. I know I didn’t tell her why, only that it was non-negotiable. We went to her OB/GYN, who I didn’t tell of my decision to not include my husband in my choice until after I was recovering. The doctor was pissed. Tough shit, dick. My body, my choice. I told Jonathan that I’d miscarried, and refused to discuss it any further. He was less than empathetic and I’m sure, relieved. I don’t remember how long after that I made the decision to leave him. That abusing me was one thing, but to lay an angry hand on our cats was indefensible and disgusting. I left him. A long, ugly story for another time. More versions of myself stoppered and silenced. To echo into the future as ghosts.
I got Norplant. Which was great, until I was put on antibiotics about six months later, and it failed. I was married to my second husband (heya, Timothy!) and was on Wellbutrin plus some other ungodly cocktail of drugs for my illness. All of which indicated that they were VERY BAD FOR PREGNANT PEOPLE in their glossary of side effects. Again, no remorse, no regret. Our marriage would survive it for another few years, this hiccup having nothing to do with why it ended. My ever-evolving persona discarding timelines like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I still have the stupid device in my arm. Looks like matchsticks under the skin.
All along, people found it acceptable to audibly question my desire to remain childfree. “You’re young! You’ll change your mind!” “You can adopt!” “So many people can’t have children!” “You could be a surrogate/egg donor!” Um, the fuck I don’t think so, you trick-ass bitch. I’d had had enough time struggling with my illness both medicated and not to have come to the conclusion that since this illness is largely genetic, I did not wish to submit any other living creature to its fangs. That I would not, with every fiber of my being. By taking myself out of the gene pool, I could not only spend the extra time and energy on bettering myself, devoting resources to finding my own peace in the hopes of being able to help others. Which is what I’m doing here. I am finally, a few months shy of 51, old enough where no one says these ridiculous things anymore. They’ll ask if I have kids, sure, expecting me to say how many are out of the house already as many of my peers have. “Nope, just me and the cats. Two brothers,” I say, to qualify my non-crazy-cat-lady status.
So when an older guy, (heya, Howard, you asshole) eleven years divorced and overly enamored with the size and talent of his own cash and prizes (really more like pity clap honorable mention if I’m being honest), breaks up with me over text after a week of dating and telling me (all horrific grammar his): “I don’t want to argue about the merits of your poly! But…I will tell you one thing….and never forget this. One day you will be all alone…much older….without that special person to take care of you. You can’t or won’t see it now…but Trust me….it will happen! Right….I know nothing! Except….I have money to pay my bills…have a terrific son….wonderful sister and take care of an invalid mother!” That because I don’t have children, that I am not “committed” to one partner, that I have obviously never known true, deep love. That I cannot possibly have done.
Floored. Completely floored.
I took a big hit of CBD. I replied: “You don’t get to say that to me. I am a widow. I have been alone, and my partners are what helped me get through it, have been with me all along. That was really out of line, and hurtful. As well as untrue. Your life experience isn’t mine. You have zero idea what my life is like. That was an incredibly insensitive thing to say to me. Do yourself a favor and never say that to anyone ever again. That was a nasty fucking thing to say.”
He kept on. And on. Always replying, always poking his obnoxious little head in. I fiinally told him to go fuck himself (my nuclear option: if I say this to you, you’re dead to me.) and stopped replying. I actually stopped replying because I knew it would make me sick if I didn’t. Who is this person? My sanity became more important than telling him off. Who have I become?
I am 99.13% sure that not having any offspring was the right decision for me. But then I see a photo like this, one where I see my niece in my own six-year old face, where I see my nephew in that of my sister’s. That genetics are a wild and amazing and terrifying thing. And what an amazing child might Gary and I have had.