Excerpt from "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side"

(Forgive typos - I have yet to revise)

I didn’t know any better. I thought it tasted good. Sure, it was bitter and smacked the back of my throat the way Ike smacked Tina but that’s what it was supposed to do, right? I pretended that it was a smooth pull, one that wasn’t about to make me vomit. I needed to look like a real man in front of my friends. My nine year old friends. After all we were all men by that point. We had thrown rocks through windows and TP’d houses of teachers and even stolen a bag of candy last Halloween. But this was different. This was the validation we needed for ourselves and the proof we needed to show all the others, whoever they may have been. This was the manliest thing any of us had ever done. It involved subterfuge and a can with an intentional misspelling. It involved actively suppressing our collective gag reflexes. Only minutes before we were just boys. We were neighborhood hoodlums of the lowest order. But no more. Now we were men. Now we knew how to drink.

Obviously that isn’t as true as I’m recollecting now that I reflect with a clearer mind. The beer was Miller Lite and we had argued over how best to sneak the can away from the party and open it without making a sound. The Keystone Kops made arrests faster and with more gentility than we used in our operation. The most amazing part of the entire event is how we failed to give ourselves away before we even located the contraband. Nine year olds do very little quietly and when they think they’re being sneaky things get downright clamorous.

But we did it and we drank it, each taking a stinging swig before passing it on to the next guy like it was a really good joint, which we had yet to experiment with but was soon to join our fractured self discoveries. Those discoveries would eventually, like so many before us, take us all in different directions as they tend to do. I don’t speak to any of them anymore, not even on social media. But we were together in that moment and that was important. We all would have found booze at some point but finding it together brought us closer for that formative time. For them it was a drink and an introduction to adulthood that only alcohol could bring. But for me, it was much, much more.

I could go on for the length of this book and likely several others about how I felt when I drank. The euphoria (before the hangover), the clarity (before the fog), the witty remarks made (before the slurring) - all of it a glorious haze of…lies. It was none of those things. It was none of those things and less. But I didn’t know that at the time. Maybe it was the sheer amount of alcohol advertising kids of the 80s were subject to or maybe it was my genes but damnit if I wasn’t convinced that what I was doing and feeling was not only right but somehow ordained by a higher power. It was the 80s so Capitalism was certainly a higher power. 

My parents were both saddled with drinking issues, my father shouldering the burden more so than my mother. When he passed he had twenty seven years of sobriety - something I was sure to note in his eulogy. My mom however never stopped drinking, having had convinced herself that since she had never wrapped a car around a light post that she must not have a problem. My dad did that. I never did but still I had a problem. So while I can easily trace my issue back to my parents the chromosomes they combined to make me I can equally trace back my drinking career to that basement in December of 1988 and a can of beer and the unblinking adoration of my peers.

Soon enough that adoration was redirected to other friends in the circle who could drink socially and not straight to blackout. And very soon after that I recall thinking that I was to blame for not knowing what I did the night before, not my parents or my genes - just my decisions. So it stood to reason that if I just made better decisions that should solve all my problems. Surely elicit drugs would help cool off the steady drinking! Cocaine was the answer! How did it take me until the age of thirteen to think of that? If I was already high I wouldn’t want to drink as much. My train of good ideas had a monstrous engine, many, many cars and one humongous caboose.

For the sake of backstory I’ll say it wasn’t long before I was addicted as much to the coke as I was to the booze. My pre-school routine was drink whatever alcohol I could find, eat two tablespoons of peanut butter to mask the smell, snort if I had enough or just rub my gums with the residue if I didn’t and then go off to learn and become a future leader of America. Now that I think of it, had I been born a decade sooner I would have come of age just at the right time for this to be almost acceptable. Funny and ironic, if it wasn’t so sad.

By the time high school rolled around I was drinking everyday, coke had led to my dabbling in heroine (it was easier to obtain) and I had discovered that weed would help me relax when the coke had me just a little too wound up. I had few friends and those I did keep didn’t know about my issues. I still don’t understand how I hid it from them. I know I’m not that good a liar and I know they weren’t that obtuse. I suspect it was just that we were all teens and had our own drama going on so we didn’t pay attention to anyone outside of the mirror. It was probably best that way. I’m still very thankful that I didn’t keep those friends I began drinking with. I can only assume I would have just dragged them down with me. 

At this point I should probably absolve my parents of any wrongdoing or malfeasance. They were amazing. Always loving, attentive and caring they would do anything for anyone. That said, I was not only the youngest but also the only boy. My dad finally got the son he wanted and my mom finally got something other than a girl. My dad loved me but as soon as I didn’t reciprocate on his love of baseball we had little to bond over. My mom however doted on me. I was her son - all dirt, sweat and skinned knees. But I was also a budding lover of musical theatre and folk music. I was a perfect combination of tumble and reserve and she saw it. And she nurtured it. She was my biggest fan.

It was probably this admiration that led her to turn a blind eye to the bottle of Skol vodka I kept in the mini fridge in my bedroom. She knew it was there. She knew the level was always a little lower each time she saw it. She probably even knew why I kept the jar of peanut butter in there too. But she never said a word about it. She let me make my own choices while taking a few surreptitious glances at my progress to protect me from danger. But since I had become so adept at not letting on that I had a problem she never knew to speak up. Every teenager had a shot of booze now and again, after all, so she had no need to worry. I never gave her a good night kiss with vodka or gin on my breath so she had no need to ask if I was alright. She just kept tabs on my schoolwork and progress in theatre and choir and I kept tabs on my drinking. 

Sort of.

Is This The Part Where I Start Dating Again?

I’ve always been a fan of little glances. Whether they be across a crowded room, coffee shop or as you pass on the street, there’s just something intoxicating about those fleeting moments of connection. Most of the time they amount to nothing. Even more often they turn out to be accidental, which I tend to understand just a moment too late. I’ve already awkwardly smiled at her and she’s already turned her attention back to her phone, where she is no doubt texting her boyfriend who is much, much better at life than I am. Or worse, she sees the smile and does her best to ignore me. When this happens all I can really do is hope no one else saw and speed up my walk as I hurry to find the nearest dark hole to crawl into.

But then there’s those moments of sheer pleasure and joy. And probable nausea. You lock eyes, possibly more than once, give a tentative half smile (or less; a turned up corner of the mouth perhaps) and look away again, careful not to give too much right away. You look again, shiver in a way that you hope isn’t physically noticeable and turn your attention back to your coffee.

Then…well, then…

This is the part I’m much less sure about. I know I’m supposed to actually go and, you know, interact. But contrary to popular conjecture of those who only know me from situations where I can be the jester, I’m far from a social butterfly. It would be great if I could figure out why this is the case. Perhaps someday, years from now, I’ll be sitting in a shrink’s office and something from my past will come rushing back to my mind and it’ll all make sense. Until then I’ll just do the best with what I’ve got. It isn’t much, but it’s me.

So eye contact is made. Smiles are exchanged. Next comes conversation. But how the hell does that happen? Spontaneous conversation seems like something out of a sci-if novel I have no business reading. It’s usually uncomfortable at first, a little off-putting if done incorrectly. But once you jump off that cliff you either have to fall or learn to fly. And depending on the situation both can be equally attractive. I usually abstain completely and walk away.

Notice that I never mentioned that was an option? Yeah. I did that on purpose. Let me walk away. I have things to distract me from a relationship. I need to be alone for a while. I want to be alone for a while. I want to sit at computer and make up reasons why I should walk away from possibility. You go and find The One. I’ll be here making excuses. When I’m ready I promise you’ll be first to know.

Ok. I’m ready. (Well, not really…but learning to fly sounds like a better option than falling.)

Turning Her Into Literature

It seems now that she’s been fiction all along. There was always something not exactly believable about her - usually in the best possible way. She was always more than reality and never failed to take me out of mine. She would always do something that as a writer I wished I had thought of first for a character still forming in my mind. She was fiction and yet she was an undeniable fact. How, then, do you turn someone like that into literature?

It was Arthur Miller who advised that “the best way to get over a woman is to turn her into literature” and it’s something this writer has been doing for a very long time. Truth be told I’ve been doing for as long as I’ve been interested in girls. Like most writers I draw from my life for inspiration because, as they say, all fiction is based in fact. Until this particular woman that had been an easy task. Every woman has a trait one can exaggerate for effect; something that makes her just out of the realm of actual believability. The problem, as I see it, with this woman is that she fosters an immediate suspension of disbelief the moment you make her acquaintance. 

Are you beginning to see my problem?

I’m sure if I thought about it even momentarily I’d recall myriad ways she was nowhere near the perfect specimen of womanhood I have in my long term memory. Of course she isn’t. That stands to reason. Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20 but once your vision is clouded with the heartache of a break up that vision becomes unreliable at best. 

And now that I’ve typed that memories are flooding back to me in an avalanche of mistakes and, more often, instances when I knowingly painted over the obvious personal insults. The mistakes were many and spread out of the years. Letting her get her way every time - assuming that made me some kind of martyr. It didn’t. It simply gave her the permission to continue to walk all over me. Then again, that wasn’t exactly permission she required. She would do it regardless just as she had done to almost everyone else in her life for years before I came into the picture. She was unique in a way that I never thought possible, even after decades of fiction writing: she never knew what she wanted but she would take and take and make the plan up as she went. When everyone was used up and they all caught on to her ways she would call it a win and move on too. It was horrible yet brilliant at the same time; an unfortunate perfection.

The personal insults were a different story. Those I saw and understood and knew exactly what was happening in real time. But I allowed it to happen. Every day was a new version of the same thing: be told I was a good person and good dad and good provider and then when the fangs came out because she didn’t get what she wanted I would become the worst at everything. Instead of trying to understand why she lashed out I smiled and apologized and did exactly as she requested. That’s not living and that’s far from a healthy way to maintain a relationship. I wasn’t growing for the better part of six years. I was instead building an inner wall, one no one but myself knew was there. But it was - and is - there. I was able to get through those years because that wall gave me distance from the hurt, distance from the inability to understand exactly what was going on in the mind and heart of a woman I thought I knew. A woman I swore my life to. A woman who is no longer mine and most likely wasn’t mine even back then. 

She isn’t that way anymore. She’s grown. She’s seen the error of her ways in many more instances than I was expecting. I’m sure she’d be the first to say that she still has more growing to do, as do I. But I think we’re both in a good position to begin looking back with more realism and less nostalgia. Nostalgia is drug and she and I have been sober far too long to get addicted again. Perhaps I can chase the Arther Miller advice and put the past behind me as much as one can. Which is to say, of course, build upon it. But this time the foundation will be stone and not hollow cliches from 90s teen rom-coms. What do Freddy Prinz, Jr. and John Cusack really know about love anyway? Arther Miller had Marilyn Monroe. I think I’m better off with Mr. Miller.

You Can Never Go Back To Before

2017 is over and I couldn’t be happier about it. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons for that and one that looms largest, as you all know.

I suppose before I go on I should tell you all where I’ve been and why you haven’t heard from me in a while. To put it simply: it hurt to write. It hurt to think. It hurt to recall and hope. But mostly, I just hurt. I needed a break. Obviously, since I fancy myself a writer I didn’t stop writing entirely, I just stopped writing for others. I kept a journal but only wrote in it when the mood struck. About a week after I stopped updating here I realized how much more free and happy I was. I came to the simple conclusion that while I began this journey on the page things got out of control very quickly in my mind. I began to obsess over things I couldn’t have changed in the first place and even more that I couldn’t change if I wanted, which I no longer do. In other words, what was supposed to free me from worry ended up building walls around me. I had to make the very personal decision to step away and regroup. And thankfully “regroup” is exactly what I did.

Note: I’m about to make some sweeping generalizations which, by definition, will not apply to everyone.

It’s a funny and sad thing to realize that all of your positivity was futile. At some point everything you think of as happy and true and unbreakable morphs into a sad, false and broken narrative. I’m still not sure if it’s better for this to happen gradually or all at once. Maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, the future is referred to as “inevitable” for a reason. But my experience screams at me: gradually. There’s always that glimmer of hope, no matter how small, that things will just work out or magically get better. At least with the sudden onslaught of reality you aren’t toyed with; the bandage is ripped off in one fluid motion. You process the hurt and move on.

It’s an interesting experience when you aren’t truly given a chance to start mending yourself after a breakup because both parties are still living under the same room for months after the breakup. I learned a great deal about how I process emotion during that time. To be blunt, most of it was negative and I didn’t instantly realize the damage I was doing to myself by not being more proactive in my self care. I could have - and should have - removed myself from the situation as much as possible. I should have gotten a sitter for the kids and went somewhere to be alone. I should have gone out with friends. I should have gone to more AA meetings that usual. I should have talked to someone. I didn’t. What I did was keep it in. I let it eat away at me from the inside. I let it corrupt every aspect of my being. I began to get daily bouts of heartburn. I began to find new and creative ways to place the blame everywhere but on me. I wasn’t eating and I wasn’t living. I had passing thoughts of ending it all. I had passing thoughts of just walking out of the house one day and never coming back. Eventually everything came out - and it was not pretty. What should have been me seeking to understand the situation and what may have led to that point became me screaming, yelling and berating. I was combative at every turn. The only words out of my mouth were placing blame on “her” and complaining how I was the victim. Simply put, I was an asshole. I think the first thing that began to bring me back to sanity was the realization that just because you are the victim doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything. You still have to work on yourself and maintain a strong foundation upon which you can build a new life. Screaming and starving yourself doesn’t get results. Neglecting your part in it doesn’t help. No one thing truly helps, but acceptance is always a good place to start.

I recall taking hundreds of little breaks in the day just to remind myself that this was all out of my control and I wasn’t at fault. I would step away from work, the kids, friends, and just take a series of deep breaths and repeat “I have no control over this. It is not in my control.” Time and time again until I believed it. Truth be told, I’m not sure I believe it still but it worked at the time to get me over the vertigo inducing thoughts running rampant in my mind. It was several weeks of this, to varying degrees of success, before I could wake up in the morning without feeling like vomiting. Of course that’s assuming I had slept at all. Eventually I got back to eating, enjoying life (to an extent) and sleeping on a regular schedule. She and I got back on relatively good terms. We had accepted things. Well, I had. Turned out she had just gotten herself a distraction in the form of a guy. That’s when all the hard work I put into rehabbing myself went to hell. I was off again - screaming, yelling, crying. I realize now that my reaction wasn’t totally her fault. In fact, it was barely her “fault”. A reaction is controllable, to an extent. And in this case I wasn’t actually reacting to her - I was reacting to her decision. But I didn’t say that. Instead I smacked a box off a table and sent it flying across the room and called her names. I’m not proud of this. But it happened. (And it never will again. I’ve gotten the help I need to assure that.) I went back to the personal reassurances of not being able to control anything. I went back to forcing myself to eat and sleep. I distracted myself with more work. But the one thing I didn’t do was face the feelings of loss, guilt, anger and a million others still swarming in my mind.

She moved out on a Sunday. I had come to accept everything and even understood her and her actions to a limited extent by that point. I knew it was over and I didn’t want her back anymore. She was gone from my life, but still living rent free in my head and my heart. I got home that night to an eerily quiet house. It was much more empty now that she had taken her things, and some of mine. I had my kids sleep in bed with me that night to reinforce the fact that we still had each other. I slept for a couple hours total, but no more than 20 minutes at a time. I didn’t have to work the next day so I laid in bed as the sun came up, holding my kids closer to me than I ever thought possible. They woke up, and the New Normal began.

I had no idea at that point that it would be another seven months before we were going to see a judge. But in that time I was able to get most everything back on track. I got a new place to live, big enough for me, the kids and all their toys. I got my son into a good school district. I started dating (sort of). I went out with friends. I made plans to go out and I kept them; no more lame excuses or saying the kids were too sad for me to leave them. 

What I’ve learned from those seven months cannot be summed up in a blog post. I gained such a wide breadth of self-knowledge that it hardly seems possible that it happened so quickly. I learned what I want from a significant other. More importantly I learned what I need from one. I learned that sleeping alone isn’t comfortable but that’s the exact reason I need to do it. I learned that women of all ages have idiosyncrasies. While they differ from one person to another they make the woman a stronger and more interesting force. I learned that my children will always learn more by observing my actions (and reactions) than they will by what I say. I learned - finally - that you can be completely at odds with someone on every possible topic but if there is or was a foundation of love things have a way of working out…eventually.

My divorce was finalized four days ago. It wasn’t a day I ever saw coming. Obviously no one gets into a relationship thinking it’s going to end. But The last ten months have been the wildest, darkest, brightest, happiest and most uncertain of my life thus far. My ex will be the first to say that this ultimately ended due to decisions she has made over the years. I should hold a grudge with her for everything she did, regardless of how much blame can be placed on me. But I won’t hold a grudge. I can’t, actually. I tried. It isn’t because I am fine with her methods or because I agree with her decisions. It’s because I know now how it feels to be lost. I know what it is to feel helpless and unsure. I know what it is to hurt. In a strange way I owe her a debt of gratitude for that. 

I used to say “you’re not the woman I married” often. I didn’t mean this is a strictly negative way. Everyone changes. Everyone strives to be the best they can be. No one should remain the same over an eight year period. She didn’t. I didn’t. I don’t know what the future holds for me, her, the kids or anything, really. But I can say one thing for certain to her, if she’s reading this: I’m not the same man you divorced.

A Life In Pictures, Packed Away

You don't actually feel like you're moving from one place to another until you pack the junk drawer in the kitchen. This week I packed that drawer. And I'm here to tell you: shit got real, real fast.

It didn't take long to pack it. In fact, most of the contents were trash and the remnants ended up in a small box no bigger than a pack of tissues. But the damage was done. It was painfully clear that I am moving out of the house I bought with the intention of keeping forever. The house, it is important to point out, that I bought for her. Her. Who is no longer here. 

It's past "time to move on" and I know in the long run it's what's best for the kids and me. That said there are many little things I wasn't expecting as I began to pack. Things that stung. Things that made me question my decisions up to this point in my life. Things that made me want to stay and things that made me want to move on right then and there. And it wasn't the drawer that made me feel all these things, all at once.

It was the pictures in the hall.

At the risk of sounding cliché it was the damn photos we hung in the hall. Moments and times we never wanted to forget. Mommy kissing son. Brother and sister, arm in arm, on grandma's porch. Husband and wife, kissing and giving a side eye to the camera. All told there were nine of these pictures. I had taken them down quickly at first, dusting them and not actually giving them a second thought. After all, I had to dust them - how important could they possibly be if I had let such a layer of filth collect? I put them in a box. I taped the box and marked it "Hall Pics". I put the box in my car.

Then I went back in.

I looked up the staircase.

I had the second panic attack of my life.

Not since the death of my mother had I encountered such a sudden and real feeling of loss and...something else. Even now, almost a week later, I still can't put my finger on what it was exactly that ran through me at that moment. But it was harmful in a way that I am certain will last a lifetime.

I know full well (all too well) that some moments leave a mark on your life, who you are and who you will become. That moment left a scar. The difference? Marks can be cleaned away after they change you; forgotten with time. Scars stick. You can't ignore them. Instead, you have to build everything that you call "normal" from that moment on around that scar.

And scars are sneaky. They can remind you of their presence at the most random times. Like when you're at work, talking to a customer, and you look down at their feet and see the same kind of flip flops she wore when the two of you went to the Newberry Library and took that photo of your feet on the elaborate mosaic floor. You went there to research the old manuscripts of typewriter related materials. She went to try to see the book bound in human skin. Then you went to Hemingway's childhood home and then on to lunch. When you got home you made love in the living room, surrounded by bookshelves and all those dead authors you admire so much. And then you hear something for, what? the third time? It's the customer asking about how the same-day shipping works and suddenly you're back at work, back in reality, back in today. But wishing you were back in that library or restaurant or living room. But you're not. And neither is she.

And neither of you ever will be again.

Not A Home, or A Few Direct Notes On Resentment

Sure there are cracks in the walls. The floors are uneven to the point of being dangerous. The walls don’t meet at perfect angles with the leaky ceilings. The carpet is worn and woefully dingy. The paint outside is peeling and in desperate need of attention. The grass is overgrown and patchy and the shrubs are no better. The garage lists precariously to the right as though being blown by an undetectable wind. The gravel driveway is overrun with crabgrass and dandelion sprouts so much that the city has warned us several times that it is no longer considered a driveway. There is a musty scent that won’t dissipate no matter how many candles we burn. There is a hole in the roof over the entryway.

This is our house.

This is not our home.

It used to be our home. I bought it for you. You asked. You smiled. You made your eyes glimmer in that certain way. You made me fall in love with you all over again. And I said yes. I wasn’t ready and knew it was a bad idea. But I said yes. You kissed me and I kissed back. And we owned a house.

We made two more babies in this house. We loved them all and made this pile of imperfections into a home.

But you’re gone now. You made the decision that this was no longer your home and then confessed that, if you were to be honest, it was probably never really your home.

How is that even possible? How could this place not be your home?

You picked it out. You forged memories I can only hope still reside in your long term memory and will remain there and become more and more important as the years pass within the confines of this building. This was our fortress against the world and all its heartache and grief. Little did I know that the real heartache and grief was building, completely unseen, within your mind and heart. It just had to find a way and a time to escape. A time and a way I never thought would come.

But it did. And now I’m here. And you’re not. And these walls are just walls. The garage is a garage. The carpet is just dirty. The memories are tarnished and some have already begun to fade. The walls are crooked and the entire roof seems to be coming down on top of me and crushing the dreams I once had about you and me and us.

This was your house. I bought it for you. I thought we had made it a home. You made me believe that. All the while you had a differing point of view. You were waiting – biding your time. When the time was right you flew. You didn’t walk away or even run. You flew. As soon and as fast and as far as your little wings could carry you.

I am supposed to bid you farewell and wish you the best and be humble and say that everything will work out for the best. But every night I slip into pajamas you picked out for me, I climb the stairs we made love on, I tuck our children in and kiss them goodnight, and then I lay down in the bed we shared for so many years. And all of this underneath the roof of the house I bought for you.

You. The woman who tricked me into loving her. It doesn’t matter why you did. You did it. And I’m the silly boy who fell – hook, line and pretty blue eyes.

I’m never going to thank you for the time we shared. Not now. Not that I have discovered the truth about you and what we were and what we became in your mind. No. I will not thank you.

But I will wish you good luck. I hope you get everything you never knew you needed and everything you wanted but never asked me for. I wish you understanding from within before you seek it without. I wish you honesty and self knowledge. And most of all I wish you time. Time to know yourself. Time to know others. Time to be alone. Time to become what you aren’t yet.

I wish you time with the knowledge that you have already denied yourself the luxury. And I wish for myself the gift of acceptance – because this is your mistake to make. And I need to let you make it.

So here I sit at my keyboard instead of in front of you. Typing everything I want to say instead of screaming it from the rooftops. You made a mistake. But to be clear: the mistake wasn’t that you left. The mistake is that it took you so long to do so.

Goodbye to you, my dear. It was really something, wasn’t it? We aren't in love anymore and the odds are good we never really were. And this isn’t a home anymore. Hell, it’s barely a house. A collection of walls and carpet and windows and doors can be just those things and nothing more, as sad as that thought is. It’s the people who make it more than the sum of its parts.

The trick is that those people need to be genuine and honest from the word GO. Not after eight years. After that amount of time any tiny white lie has grown into a giant monster creeping around the corner of every word you say. And sooner or later that monster is going to spring on you and knock you down. And even, in the worst cases, kill a love that at least felt real.

I don’t like this house anymore. I don’t like that monster. I don’t like you.

Now if you would excuse me I have to go to sleep and do my best not to think about what could have been.

I Skipped A Week. The World Kept Turning.

I was supposed to write about mediation last week. I was supposed to write about being stuck between a boy and a man this week. Instead, life kind of threw everything it had at me in the last two weeks and I’m just now coming out the other side bruised but not dead yet!

Just as get you up to date…

We went to mediation with a pretty clear idea of what is going to happen and who was getting what. Within the first ten minutes – after the mention of her having to pay child support – everything was off the table. Without going into too much detail she wasn’t (and isn’t) happy that she’ll have to pay anything. I can’t blame her I suppose. I’ll have the kids for all but 5 hours a week. That said, they are OUR kids and she has a responsibility to pay for them.

Then the lady/roommate got hit by an overzealous teenager. The van took a good crunch in the front driver’s side fender and will need a new bumper, but no one was hurt. It wasn’t until after this happened that she all of a sudden needed to switch cars so she could trade in the SUV instead of the van. This also coincided with the realization that she didn’t have insurance on the van and thus no way to pay for the damage to be fixed. After a LOT of back and forth I agreed to swap out the cars so long as she got the damage fixed. She agreed and now I finally have the car I wanted in the first place – a van that will actually fit all of the kids at once!

This Sunday is the move out day. That’s right – more than 4 months after asking for the divorce she will finally be out of the house! I can’t wait for many reasons, not the least of which is my sanity. I’m most concerned with how confused the kids have become. They keep asking when mommy is moving and have all but stopped asking if or when she’ll be back to the house at night. They know she has a boyfriend and they know she won’t be seeing them much at all. But just her being there is enough to muddy the concept of divorce in their minds. I tell them divorce is when mommies and daddies don’t live together anymore, all the while she’s living in the room right above where I’m telling them this. Once she’s gone I think we will all breathe a sigh of relief – including her.

I made the mistake of doing math the other day. I figured out what I’ve spent in the last 8 weeks (as long as I’ve been keeping track) compared to what she’s given. My portion was $1,300 and her contribution was $120. Keep in mind that my $1,300 was only food, clothing and activities – I’m not including mortgage and utilities. If we figure all that into it, we’re closer to the $5,000 mark. This is something that will have be included in the paperwork we file. That $120 is all she’s given in more than 12 weeks. That’s just not acceptable.

I think that about brings you all up to date. I apologize for missing last week and being late this week. Who knew divorce would be so difficult!?

Tentatively Tentative

I thought I was done caring. I thought I was done crying. I thought I was done with emotion of all kind. I thought I had breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

I was fucking wrong.

Today I had one of those great feeling, all out, ugly cry, panting, sobbing kind of breakdowns that can only come from real hurt. I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t doing anything particularly special. Hell, I was folding a blanket. The next thing I know I’m doubled over on the couch wondering how my life got to this point.

That isn’t the real question or the real reason I ended up on the couch. It wasn’t even the real reason I was crying. I was bawling because I suck at processing emotions. Always have. Always will, unless I seek professional help. Here’s the truth: I’m sad. I’m hurt. I’m jealous. I’m afraid. I’m confused. I’m hopeful. I’m relieved. I’m tentative. Yeah. That’s the perfect word. Tentative.

Nothing is assured. Nothing is certain. Even past events have a way to come back at you with a new and surprising intensity and whack you in the back of the head until you see it in a totally new light. And that’s damn unfair. Why can’t the past just stay in the past? The future is scary enough to have to also worry about that person you used to be (or worse, that person you used to love). And that thing about the past is that its attack is always a surprise. It’s literally coming up from behind and odds are you will be caught unawares.

Looking back over the years which I have obviously been doing lately I have noticed a few things that really stand out. Small things mostly, like when I proposed or our wedding night. How can these be small things, you ask? Because I wasn’t present for either, really. I was detached. I was there, but I wasn’t. And it wasn’t that I HAD been there and then checked out mentally. Rather I just failed to show up. Why? I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got there. I had no idea I even wanted to go there at all. But there I was and I knew I had to react. So I proposed. And on my wedding night I fell asleep. Yup. I fell asleep. I didn't know what else to do. Sex just didn’t seem the right thing to do at the time and we couldn’t talk about anything. We had no money to go anywhere. So I slept. I was there but I wasn’t.

I could bore you with hundreds of these same moments over the last eight years but they all have that one thing in common: my failure to commit. Both to myself and to my situation. That is no way to live a life and I know that. Now. I doubt that this flash of brilliance would have changed anything in this particular case - sometimes relationships are just doomed, I suppose - but it couldn’t have hurt.

I’ve always said that I’m the most self aware asshole you’d ever want to meet and I guess I still am. I know I have my flaws and over the years I’ve more than accepted them, I’ve turned them into part of my personality. Like, hey, look! It’s Bob! And he’s being a dick today but at least he’s cracking jokes at someone else’s expense! That’s who I have become. Why? Because I wasn’t capable of making a change in me that I knew would have to be made. I would have to commit to something better than I was and something better than I am.

I know now that I need to shed that tentative label I’ve attached to every fiber of my being and embrace something new. Something scary. Something that will be more uncomfortable than anything I’ve ever done. I’m going to have to change.

I guess if this divorce forces me to face anything in a positive way it should me. Me. Who I actually am at my core. Of course, there’s only one problem with this. I have no idea who that is. But I do know one thing for certain: he isn’t going to tentative for long!

I Don't Date - I Subscribe

Yeah, I knew it. I knew from the first time she stuck her tongue out at me. It was love. L. O. V. E. Cupid and arrows and saccharine and sappy songs. I knew I loved her.

Well, maybe.

I’ll do my best to lay this out without relying on hindsight, which would probably make it more real and visceral, but that’s not what you want when you talking about love, is it? You don’t need reality getting in the way of a good eventual heartache. So here we go. Again.

We went on our first date and we kissed and we went on a few more dates. She somewhat ditched me on New Years and I still allowed her in. She was more or less mine as she enrolled back at community college and attended support groups. I say more or less because there was always something there…or rather not there…that I could never put my finger on. Was it fear? Was it excitement that wasn’t manifesting itself quite right? Was it a knowledge that she had no idea what she was doing but knew she shouldn’t be doing it?

Yeah. It was probably that. I know for certain that was my issue.

See, I knew from the day I met her that she wasn’t quite like the other girls. She was fun and pretty with a great sense of humor. But she was also broken in a way I didn’t know. She was in need of guidance and love and I was honestly in no place to provide either of those things. Hell, I didn’t love myself at the time. I suppose she was more like the other girls I’ve dated than I give her credit for. After all, I tended to gravitate toward women who were in some way damaged. Daddy issues, codependent, addiction - whatever it was, I was down to help, though my assistance usually only served to make matters worse.

Let me put it this way: The women I tended to pursue had so many issues I didn’t actually date them: I subscribed.

(As promised in the first post on this topic I’m going to get real about myself as well. I know I’m flawed and I know I’m to blame in what’s happening now. This should be an interesting journey finding out exactly how…)

So where was my mind in all this, you may ask? Easy: not with me. Lost. Gone. Somewhere else. I tend to switch off common sense when beginning a new relationship. It always seems to add an air of fun mystery that always fades as the years pass. It also helps me ignore the large and small flaws in both the woman and myself - not to mention my pan of “happily ever after”. And by the time I regain my senses and see the reality of the situation years have gone by and we’re in really deep and something is going to happen and it’s not going to be good. Up to now it’s only been a tiny scar on a heart. This time the heart has been forcibly removed from my ribcage and dissected to see how it works. A kinder person would have tried to mend it and place it back when they were done but that isn’t going to happen now.

I don’t recall the first time it dawned on me that this particular relationship had turned out to be just like the rest but I know there were more than a few. It was only a little more than two years in that I slowly realized she wasn’t there - her head had gone somewhere else and didn’t seem to be returning any time soon. I took the opportunity to conduct some soul searching and, while not very deep, I did come to one conclusion: she didn’t love me. I mean, she liked me and all but the love wasn’t there.

Please note: I didn’t end that sentence with “anymore”. The love just wasn’t there. In total honesty I do not believe it ever was there. I still think I loved her in my own way though over the years even mine began to wane.

At the time she started to become distracted our son was not yet a year old and she was most likely battling postpartum depression, though neither of us knew that. She would yell and cry and I would tell her to grow up an “suck it up”, like that was something she could do if she wanted. Which she did. I failed to understand her plight. I actively ignored reality and my common sense never made an appearance. Hell, man! That’s your wife and she’s obviously in pain! Get in there and make her happy! But I didn’t. And that’s my mistake and something I’ll have to work on when I get to Step 5 with my AA sponsor.

There were a lot more instances like this. She crying and begging (if silently) for help. Me being too wrapped up in “being an adult” to help or even care. She would tell me she was happy but I could tell - anyone could tell - she wasn’t.

After the other children came she continued to withdraw into herself. Again, postpartum depression - but this time mixed with something more. Something that would turn out ending the marriage and our friendship. Depression has a starting point and if you’re lucky it can have an ending point as well. But you have to acknowledge there is a problem and work for a solution. She did. And now we’re here. And now the pain has become much more bittersweet than I had ever expected it to.

Here’s the deal: we both got trapped. She felt it more directly and intensely than I did but we shared that one thought. We got pregnant before she had a chance to go back to “real” college. I had already given her a promise ring at that point but her parents strongly suggested marriage. We told them we weren’t ready quite then but she took it to heart. She talked to me about it and we agreed to go ahead and do it. In Vegas. I really think we loved each other that day. But she cried that night. And on the way back to the hotel after the ceremony.

She had so many other places to go in this world and so many people to meet and inspire and love. And I had my future too, whatever that may have (or does) entail. But we got married because she felt her parents would want that.

And this was all fine by me. I’m fine. Everything is fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.

Episode One: Every Story Needs A Beginning

What the hell? I didn’t know that this is how it was going to happen. This isn’t how it was supposed to end and how it isn’t supposed to be in general. The whole relationship wasn’t really as it should have been in retrospect, I suppose. Maybe it was wrong from the word go. Maybe we really were toxic to one another.

But then again, no.

Eight years can’t just be wasted like that. It’s just not possible that one person can be so obtuse while the other lives a lie. Perhaps it wasn’t always a lie but it was at some point and that’s enough. Not every “I Love You” was genuine and that right there is grounds for never trusting again. Of course I will trust again and knowing me it’s going to be sooner than later. But this time around I’ll have a little more insight into not only who I am but how I am. And a hell of a lot more insight into who I want next to me.

So here’s how I got to here:

We met through a mutual friend named Dr. Bob. That’s enough detail there - either you know what that means or you don’t. We met in a room that was otherwise full of older people, older than us at any rate. She was eight years my junior though I didn’t know it then. We would make eye contact across the room and smile, look away, smile. She began to playfully stick her tongue out at me. I began to playfully pretend to have to talk to a friend outside whenever she went to smoke. Within a few weeks I had asked her out, though the act itself flew right past her. She hadn’t realized I had asked her out until hours later (which speaks more to my lack of ability than her attention to my efforts). But I asked again and a date was set.

She wore her sister’s shirt and tight jeans. I wore a blue sweater and ill fitting denim (most denim is ill fitting on my angular frame). In lieu of flowers I brought a brand new copy of The Catcher In The Rye. We ate salmon. She had water and lemon. I had a Coke. We had creme brûlée for dessert. Then I drove her home and she let me kiss her. It would be the first of so many.

But looking back now I can see that it wasn’t just a kiss. It was more than that. It was a promise waiting to be broken.

I introduced her karaoke. It seemed to help get her out of her shell, the one I noticed but also didn’t notice. It wasn’t an active ignorance on my part but I also did little to pay it any mind. She slept through New Years in my bed while I watched an old Billy Joel special on PBS. I tried to wake her as the clock struck twelve but she had just gotten back from an overnight at her old college and was too wiped out from…driving? That hour and a half drive. Yeah, that would wear even long-haul truckers down.

But I forgave it and forgot it.

Or rather, I Acted As If.

In the movie Boiler Room they say to make any problem seem like less of one you just have to Act As If. You’re a salesperson who can’t make a sale? Act as if you’re the best damn salesperson ever and you will. You an insecure codependent who just scored a girlfriend way out of your league on the looks scale? Act as if everything she does is fine and never question her about it.

In other words: Act As If you’re setting yourself up for failure.

She and I ostensibly hit it off once she was back in the state and out of inpatient care for a few issues. She was back on meds and I was back on the idea that I really liked this girl and for once - FOR ONCE! - I wouldn’t even have to fix her. This one came with her own team of doctors and support staff whose literal job it was to fix her. But the funny thing about codependents is we just can’t help but fix things, even when they don’t need fixing. After all who knows better how to fix someone? A highly skilled and trained professional with decades of experience or the logistics supervisor for a small motor parts company? Exactly. It’s the latter.

And this was the sand upon which I decided to build my house of cards, all the while ignoring the lightening fueled storm clouds gathering behind me. Or were they all around me? I’ll say this much: I had no idea you could actually begin anything in the middle of a hurricane. It's not exactly easy but you can. And it’s even more difficult when you realize that a hurricane is always swirling. It’s always moving. It’s always destroying. Even the eye is a kind of devastation. It shows the truth - the wreckage and the humanity and the hope and the loss and everything that life and love and relationships should be. But you won’t notice a damn thing if you keep your eyes clenched shut and your fingers in your ears.

But the worst part by far is the realization that you didn’t just happen into the eye: you got yourself there and didn’t even notice. Who was the storm that threw you there and why the hell did you immediately seek another puddle as soon as your feet had dried?

Alas, for me these puddles should have always come with a sign that reads: No Lifeguard On Duty. Jump At Your Own Risk.

I can probably write for the next year straight and never cover every single event which led the day she asked for a divorce. But really, who wants that? That would be tedious for you to read and frankly soul crushing for me to commit to the page, though purging such memories may prove cathartic. But I will save us both and instead focus on a few instances that may or may not have led to this but sure as hell didn’t slow down the timeline. (And for the record: there are going to be quite a few unflattering things here about her. But they are real and true to the best of my recollection. And plus there’s going to be a lot of crap about me and my insecure ways, too. So it’s really a wash. Just thought I should say that.)


The Time She Ditched Me On New Year's Eve (or, The Time She Was Going To Ditch Me On New Year's Eve And Either Her Plans Changed Or Her Mom Needed Her Car Back But She Told Me She Wanted To Spend The Night With Me But Spent It Instead Asleep In My Bed): Well, I guess the title sort of gives this one away. Plus I mentioned it already but it’s really that important. The relationship was still new and I had already gone through so much with her by that point. She wasn’t doing great when we met but was getting better. I was just over a year sober and feeling pretty good, though my codependency was still unchecked. Events transpired which caused her to have to re-enter inpatient care and I went and visited every day, playing the part of a caring boyfriend. Actually, she wasn’t labeling us yet at that point. It had been about six weeks and we had verbally confirmed our mutual devotion but she still refrained from calling it anything. I’m still unsure what the point was. Perhaps keeping the door open should she find someone else? As though the word boyfriend was in some way on par with husband. It really shouldn’t but as you’ll see later it needs to be said that those two labels are totally and completely different and should never be used interchangeably. The very concept of both are worlds apart and come with a completely different set of responsibilities from both sides of the relationship equation.

(Sorry - that was a tangent. I tend to go on those. I’m not going to apologize again for them but invite you to skip over them as they appear if you so choose. But they tend to be fun so it’ll be your loss!)

So she goes to inpatient for a bit and gets out and finishes her outpatient program. Then, to my surprise, she randomly hops in her mom’s car and goes to Wisconsin on December 30th. She calls me when she gets there to tell me she won’t be going on our date that night. (At least she called?) Then she refused to commit to an answer when asked about returning for the the following midnight. (At least she didn’t outright lie?) Then she hung up on me before I had a chance to actually say good night. (Um…maybe her battery went dead? …yeah, I know…)

The next day she texted to let me know she would be staying up there for New Years. I was disappointed but enough of me was expecting it that it didn’t sting too badly. But as usual I smiled and said, “Okay. Happy New Year and I’ll see you when you get back.” Resigning myself to a solo New Year I went and saw a movie and made plans to sing karaoke in the evening. Just as I was getting out of the movie she texted. It turned out that she “changed her mind” and she would be coming back in time for New Years with me. I would have to be at her mom’s house to get her around 9 and then we could go back to my place. Which we did. She almost fell asleep on the way there (a scant 20 minute drive) and totally fell asleep less than ten minutes after walking into my apartment.

The next morning we got up and went to a meeting. I dropped her off at her mom’s and then I didn’t see her again until the following morning.

And this was all fine by me. I’m fine. Everything is fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.

Welcome and Hold On Tight!

Divorce is a bitch. 

I never realized just how much of one before mine started. The kids, the money, the stress, the house, the work, the having to hold it all together - it's by far the most intense, scary and character building experience I've ever had to face. But that's why I'm here. 

Obviously I'm a writer..that's what this entire site is. However I'm also a guy who feels feelings and gets insecure and sometimes needs a few minutes to just freak out before regaining control over his mind. Fire Between The Words wasn't supposed to be about divorce, but that's what life has dictated. FBTW will be raw and real and probably not the most coherent prose I've ever produced.

But I'm a writer and a writer must...well, write. 

Before we go on, a quick note on the name. JD Salinger once said that no writing can be considered real or important unless there is something more than letters strung together. If there's no life there is no reader. He said there must be more to the writing - there must be 'fire between the words'. And if ever there was a topic begging for a spark to become a flame, it is heartache!


So read on and attend a journey I never meant to begin but one I have no choice but to finish. 

All content copyright Robert Skrezyna / Word Rebel Ink via Creative Commons license(s). Contact us for further information and for fair use restrictions.