Because It Is My Heart

April 28, 2007

A First Marriage

People ask me all the time why I married you. I've never come up with a good answer. I wasn't madly in love with you. I had no illusions of growing old with you. There was no romantic blur in which I overlooked your faults. I tripped into marriage with you. I married you because you wanted it so badly, and because... it was something that was happening to me, a wave rushing over me, a train I was riding on over which I had no control.

Our marriage happened to me.

I know what a cop out that is. Nonetheless, there it is. And it's as close to the truth as anything I can come up with. That, and the fact that you were the smartest man I had ever dated. Having a father who was and is the smartest man I've ever known, it was inevitable I should pick a husband by his intellect.

It took you months to get me to go out with you. More months to get me to take you seriously. But we would have conversations that would last for hours or even days, and I did love that. Then I left you for a time and wanted you back and I heard the words fall out of my mouth, "I'll even marry you if you really want me too."

And so I did.

I bought the wedding rings, paid for the justice of the peace, paid for the honeymoon night at a local hotel. And I remember talking to you just before we got married, telling you I was scared to death, and you promising me that I wasn't in this alone.

But I was. In it alone. I had to make all the money. Keep everything organized. Pay the bills, balance the checkbook, go to the grocery store, cook the meals, work overtime to keep up afloat. And you, when you weren't smacking me around, you mostly slept late, and hung out on the couch watching T.V.

You got a couple of jobs. Jobs you never took seriously and which paid subsistence wages. You had your child support to pay, and once it was taken out, there was almost nothing left for us.

I would walk in from a 12 hour day at the office and the first words out of your mouth would be "What's for dinner?" I used to love to cook. I used to be pretty damn good at it. But our marriage killed whatever pleasure I once found in cooking for me. Never again would it be a pleasure.

The worst thing was the violence. I remember the first time you hit me. You had slapped me around some before that, but the first time you really hauled off and hit me, I was in the hospital. I had had a heart attack, and had finally been moved out of CCU to the telemetry unit. I was hooked up to a thousand monitors and after you hit me, my heart raced, my blood pressure went up, and the room was suddenly swarming with nurses. I knew what to do: I knew to ask one of the nurses to call security, have you thrown out, call the cops and press charges. But I just couldn't do it. It was too much to take on. I had just had a heart attack. I was unsure if I was going to keep my job. I was worried sick about money. I just didn't have it in me to take on the violence too.

And I was ashamed. Incredibly, overwhelmingly, ashamed. To think that I, the rabid feminist, was a beaten wife.

The next worse thing was that everything, especially sex, became just another chore around the house. We would have sex and the clock would immediately start ticking counting the time until we had sex again. I suppose few people are fortunate enough to get in a marriage where their sex drive is exactly in synch with their partners, but your constant hovering, your waiting, it made me feel hunted. I hated it. I began to hate having sex with you.

But I learned something. The something I learned was that the desire level for sex with my partner was directly proportional to my trust level. The less I trusted you, the less I wanted to have sex with you. And in the short time it took for our marriage to self destruct, I completely stopped trusting you. Sex with you became a matter of endurance. A matter of "Okay, it's been a week. Let's get this over with."

Good thing too that I stopped trusting you. You were lying to me about money. Setting aside money for fun so I could work a 60 hour week to just pay the bills. You were lying to me about sleeping with other women. And when I needed you most, you weren't there.

That's what kllled it you know. I had surgery. I absolutely, positively could not work for six weeks, and you turned down a job offered by a friend who knew how badly we needed the money. But you thought it didn't sound like fun, so you declined. Fun! As though my corporate job were fun. As though I worked all that overtime for the joy of it. I knew then that if you couldn't be there for me then, you would never be there for me.

And you know what? I'm glad. I could have stayed in the violence, the degredation, for years had you not done that. I was so incredibly ashamed. I bent over backwards to keep people from knowing. Even now, no matter how often I tell another woman in the same position it's not her fault, I feel the guilt and the shame. I still believe on some deep level it was my fault.

After we split up, I fell apart. Completely unstitched. You were kind enough to take the time off to drive me to my first nut house. I was completely undone. The weight of all that had happened had settled on me and squashed me like a bug.

For a while, we had a friendly divorce. A thing that lasted until I found the lump in my breast and you decided that would be a good time to challenge the moral foundation of my life. Because, you see, I honor my obligations. I knew I was about to get in debt, and unlike you, I intended to actually pay it. You took this as yet another sign I was obsessed with money. Easy to accuse me of that. Easy to accuse anyone of that when they've been paying your bills.

We had agreed when we divorced that you owed me at least $3500 for the money you never paid for your share of the bills, for the gifts to your kids that you charged on my credit cards. For the money I'd spent fixing your motorcycle, keeping you in toys. You've promised for years - you with your $70,000 a year job, to pay that back, but the promises have never resulted in a single check. So tell me, just who is it that's obsessed by money? The one who supported you while you lived on the couch? Or the one who'se never paid back a single cent of that debt? How easy to live off of someone else and blame them for the stress of carrying you.

When the post-divorce relationship first went sour I was sad. I also couldn't believe that you would take this so seriously. But I'e come to be glad you're out of my life. I see you a bit more clearly, and in seeing you more clearly, I'm more grateful you are out of my life.

I've let go of the money you owe me. I've let go of the apologies you owe me. I've even let go of trying to figure out what happened. I'm just glad you're gone. Just glad it's over.

I have the broken bones to remember you by. The cigarette burns, and the sideways nose. I have the memory of walking up the stairs to our apartment knowing I was about to get beaten and not knowing how to avoid it. I have the memory of the awful way you played with me head.

You're no longer in my heart except for the bruises. And bruises - even ones to the heart, heal.

December 30, 2006

Auntie Lil

I love you with a ferocity that borders on the ridiculous. I remember the moment I first saw you, when you went from being a theoretical human being to an incredibly beautiful and frighteningly real human being. I remember being startled by the realness of you. I remember the way that I knew that my heart was changed for ever.

I have a mental photograph album of your first few years. I remember waking with you, rocking you, feeding you, changing your diapers. I remember when you began to talk and could not pronounce “st” Instead you substituted merely “t”. You came to me once after eating some candy saying, “Aunt Lil, I’m all ticky!”

“You are! You are indeed all ticky! Let’s clean you up.”

I remember your wise eyes when at the age of three you sat down in the habitual seat of my boyfriend and said, “This is John’s chair.”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

Sober as a judge, you looked at me and nodded, “He’s a good man.”

It was all I could do to keep from falling over laughing, but you were so earnest, so incredibly sincere that I felt I must reflect your seriousness of your declaration. “Yes. Yes he is. He is a very good man.”

That same year, I gave you one of those large plastic blow up bunnies for Easter. It was taller than you were, and you were terrified of it. After going through your Easter Basket and gathering up your goodies, you began to walk into the kitchen. You brushed against the inflatable rabbit, and terrified, said, “Excuse me, Mr. Bunny.” Something the entire family now says when someone tries to intimidate us.

You used to sing during the blessing of every meal. I suspect God was delighted.

Your parents marriage didn’t last much past your 3rd month. You were surrounded by bickering, angry, drug abusing adults, but you thrived as a young, young child.. You were happy. Unbelievably joyous. You taught me about the resilience of the human spirit.

You loved the color red and hearts. We had covered your room with hearts. Quilts made with heart patterned fabric. A wind chime made of red hearts. A baby mobile made of hearts. Hearts painted onto your red furniture.

We would sit for hours and just watch you. Watch you discover your tongue and spend the day sticking it in and out of your mouth. Watching you discover that you could put your hands together. Mastering rolling over, then sitting up, then one day – Miraculously! – walking.

Your speech taught us all the quirks of our own Texas accents. When you wished for more of something, you’d ask for a “nudrine” (another one). When we would carry you up the stairs, you’d say “We’re going uppy dairs.”

Eventually I moved away, and my contact with you grew less frequent. I missed the intimacy of witnessing your day to day achievements. I delighted in finding gifts for you. I adored the pictures you would draw for me. I cherished our funny phone calls.

For a while, after I left college and returned to my parent’s home, you came to live with us while your mother was battling her substance abuse issues. You were so tiny, so vulnerable, ad so incredibly brave. One night during National Fire Safety Week, I decided it would be a good idea to teach you about fire and what to do if one happened. I succeeded only in terrifying you. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such remorse.

One night you were supposed to bathe, and when I came in to check on you, you declared you were all clean. “Did you use soap?” I asked. You nodded. “All over?” You nodded again. I glanced at the completely dry bar of soap next to you and thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. I want to let her get away with it.’ But of course, I couldn’t let you. I had to demand honesty of you. So I pointed out the dry soap, and you began to cry. I cried later. I hated to correct you. I thought everything you did was swell. You were incapable of doing anything short of delighting me.

You’re mother’s unsettled life kept you from attending the same school two years in a row until you were in high school. You learned to be incredibly independent, and to be able to adjust to anything.

On the morning after your father committed suicide, I tried to catch your mother on the phone. She had already left for work. I went to your mom’s office to wait for her. It wasn’t until I came into the office that I was aware of my appearance. In my grief I had failed to even comb my hair. I had just grabbed clothes, put them on and went out to seek my sister. Finally, she arrived at the office. I took her back into the conference room to tell her. It took a long time for her to grasp the information. I kept having to answer the same questions again and again. Finally, I led her out of the office, and drove her home. There, we began the dreadful task of waiting for you to come home to school and telling you. I would have given anything to spare you that pain. I would have gladly died to spare you that. I will be able to see your face in those moments for the rest of my life. You were so hurt, so sad, and yet, so incredibly brave. Braver than any 9 year old had any business being.

The years went by, and I moved away again. I missed a lot of your life then. You made perfect grades, were the paragon of the obedient child, and I worried for you. Oh! How I worried for you. I worried that you didn’t know that it was okay for you to mess up. That you didn’t have to be perfect to be loved.

When you were in high school and began to rebel, I secretly cheered for you. I had been afraid that one of those perfect days you were going to come home to your perfectly neat room with your perfect report cards on your perfect bulletin board and put a perfect bullet through your perfect head. When you began to rebel – even to shoplift – I silently cheered.

You were the maid of honor at my wedding. You were so beautiful that I spent a great deal of effort at the parties surrounding the wedding to keep my husband’s friends from trying to pick you up. I threatened one of them, a heroine addict who was 32 years old. “She’s 17. Touch her and I will kill you.”

A few years ago, I attended your college graduation. I don’t know what I expected, but I know I didn’t expect what happened. The moment I saw you, and you waived up to us, I burst into tears. I was so proud of you! I was watching your life change forever. I was watching the fruition of the wonderful person you were.

Since this is a super secret completely anonymous blog, I can confess to something I can’t say in very many places. I never bonded with your younger sister in the way I did with you. I love her, but not in the wild, unbridled way I love you. Perhaps because you were so much like me as a child, serious, quiet, and avoiding attention with a determined, focused effort. You mastered the art of blending into the wallpaper.

This year for Christmas, I gave you a china box. Inside the box I had placed all my best memories of you, all my boundless faith in you, all my hopes and dreams for you, and all my love, my boundless, boundless love. I adore you. I think you are the cats damned pajamas.

I would risk everything for you in a heart beat. For you are the center and purest part of my heart. You are the love I never dreamed I could feel.

December 07, 2006


Late at night and I’m frightened to sleep. Frightened for reasons I can’t define. Frightened despite the fact I have to get up early to see the doctor. Frightened in spite of logic, reason, maturity, or simple facts.

I can’t sleep. I can’t wake up. I walk like I’m treading paper thin ice on a wing and a prayer.

What am I doing? Why can’t I stop?


November 18, 2006

Divine Secrets

Lately, I’ve been re-reading The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Last night, as I stretch out in bed turning page after page, it occurred to me that I’m a wee bit obsessed with Mother – Daughter stories. And in thinking about that, I naturally thought about you.

Anyone looking at the history of my life might expect me to be searching for a father. And perhaps I did for a long time. Perhaps that’s what my adolescent promiscuity was about – filling up the male love & attention deficit that had existed so long. But sometime I outgrew that. I quit fixating on that loss. I accepted what happened as what happened and moved on. I even forgave.

But you, on the other hand, you were there for me. If not always in the most appropriate ways or in the most present ways. You were there. There is no mother shaped hole in m soul. But I’m still looking for you. I’m still trying to figure out whole this whole mother-daughter thing works. And it seems to me that this mother-daughter thing, whatever it is, is a fundamental relationship, the thing from which all other relationships spring.

I went through a long time of being angry at you for the things you didn’t protect me from. For sitting in the back den doing needlepoint while I thought, really believed, that this time Daddy was going to beat me to death. I know I screamed, and I know that he frightened me so badly I lost control of my bladder as he held my the neck with my feet not even touching the floor. I know you remember nothing about it. For you it simply did not exist. I was angry for all the nights you left me home alone with him when he was so drunk and completely out of control. I was angry for all the cries for help from me that went unanswered, the suicide attempts, the running away from home, the grades that went from A’s to barely passing. But I understand now that you simply could not hear those things. They were not allowed into your realty. They were too much.

And in understanding, I’ve forgiven.

So why is it now, in the middle of my life, that it’s you I’m searching so hard for? It’s you that I crave when I’m sliding down into the pit. It’s you that I want when I’m afraid. And while you almost invariably come through, it’s never enough.

When I had the lump in my breast, and you came to visit on your way to see your sister, You pulled up to the side of the road and motioned me into your car. No hugs. Your presence, the fact that you took the time to came, stayed with me for a while, all of that should speak louder than the lack of that first hug, but God, how I wanted to fall into your arms.

I always want that. I want you to be one of those mother who holds her children, and you just aren’t. When we do hug, you always pull away first, and always with some sense that you find my clinging to you an invasion, a violation of some sort.

Somewhere in me there is a child who wants to crawl into your lap and be assured that everything is going to be okay  I don’t have a single memory of being held in you lap and comforted – those memories all belong to your mother. But the desire is there. Something deep and profound. Something like homesickness. I want to curl up and crawl back into your womb. I want to be surrounded by the safety of you. I want the intimacy and I want that constant attention.

All completely unreasonable. I know. And as you told me once, you’ve tried to be a lot of things to me, but you can’t be everything to me. And of course, you’re right. Both right in the sense that it can’t be done, and right in the sense that somehow that’s what I really want. For you to be everything to me.

But I sit with the Ya-Ya’s and I want to at least know your history. I want to know your stories. I want to know about you and your friends growing up. I want to know about first dates and party dresses. I want to know about Proms, and boy friends, and going all the way to Boston alone for your first two years of college. I want to know what your hopes and dreams have been, and how they’ve survived the trip. I want to know what you felt when you were pregnant with my sister and me. I want to know about all those luncheons and meetings that took you away from me as a child. I want to know when you learned how to make the unpleasant simply not exists. I want to know you. I want to be an expert in you.

Because you’ve always held this huge spot in my heart. Right there in the middle. I want to know the landscape of your heart too.

October 06, 2006

Long Goodbyes

I met you at a time when I needed you more than you could possibly know. My life was crumbling. I was newly divorced, and fresh out of the nut house. I had moved to a new town where I knew almost no one. Those I did know were not only bad companions, they were actively dangerous to me. But somehow, you were there. Amazingly like me. A childhood so much like mine we marveled at the similarities. And you were a little bit crazy in exactly all the same ways I’m a little bit crazy. We’ve always seemed like the only two sane people on earth to me.  

We’ve always joked that we were each other’s real sisters.  The other ones,  they were mistakes at the hospital.  You’re my real sister.  My real family.

You are the bravest person I’ve ever known.  Also the best.  Everything you do is founded in kindness and love. And you can make me laugh when the world is crumbling around me.

We became so close that we end every conversation with, “I love you to infinity and beyond and back again.” And I do. I love you that much.

When you moved away, I wanted to lay down in front of the moving van. It’s been 8 years and I’m still not entirely sure how I live without you.  There’s email.  There’s unlimited long distance. Unfortunately,  on neither side is their money for air fare. But we write and we talk, and we talk, and we talk.

You’re health has never been good.  About a year ago, it started getting worse.  And worse. You went to doctors who sent you to other doctors who sent you to other doctors, and no one really helped.

A couple of months ago, it all started picking up steam. You were weaker and weaker. Able to do less and less. Suddenly your twenty hour a week job was requiring almost heroic efforts to perform. I started making plans to move up there. To help. To just be with you. You’re the closest thing to real family I have. And I had such wonderful dreams of us doing stuff together again.  Playing scrabble and cards.  Cooking.  Poking around the junk stores.

And then one morning it happened.  You couldn’t even whisper to your husband, “Help me.” You just felt your heart stop, and then a few minutes later it would beat wildly and then stop again. A heart attack. You slipped into a dangerous sleep,  and woke up weak as a kitten. It took days to get into a doctor. More days to get diagnosed. And then more days to put you in the hospital and survey the damage.

What they found, no one counted on. You had two sets of veins and arteries leading to each of the chambers of the hearts. A heart like no other. I could have told them that. That your heart was unique.

They did their tests, and told you the damage was minimal, but then it happened again. And again. So they put you on a 24 hour heart monitor, and finally they saw it. The upper chambers of your heart were beating like crazy, while the lower chambers of your heart didn’t beat at all.

You were lucky enough to die in the doctor’s office. They revived you. Got you into a hospital. Called in specialists from near or far. No one was really sure how your heart worked. No one was really sure how to fix it.

They put in a pace maker and for a day you were like your old self again.  Except then you kept dying. Even with the pace maker,  you’d flat line.  You began to be covered in burns from the defibrillator.

You kept fainting, kept flat-lining. They put you back into surgery, adjusted the pace maker. No good. You were fading fast.

They flew in an electro-cardiologist from New York to work on you. He was interested in your case. At least you have that going for you. You’re heart isn’t just bad, it’s interesting. All the top dogs want a chance to look at it. The electro-cardiologist did some surgery, and again, for a day you rallied. They sent you home.

Since you’ve been home, we’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve lost consciousness. Your blood pressure fluctuates wildly. Your pulse is all over the map. You slip in and out of consciousness and are so weak that the only way you can turn over in bed is for your husband to help you turn.  All you can manage to say on the phone is “Do you know how much I love you?  Will you remember?  No matter what?”

I will remember.  No matter what.  I promise.  I swear it by all I hold holy.

Finally today, I said aloud what I’ve been thinking since the first surgery. “I don’t think she’s going to make it.”

You don’t understand baby. You can’t leave me now. I need you too much. If you’re gone, where do I go? Who will be my family? So I sit here at this computer, and I pray - which I’m not terribly good at – and I exert every ounce of my energy into willing you to live.

Because I love you.

To infinity and beyond and back again.

And if your heart stops, mine will break.

August 04, 2006

A Secret (In A Blog of Secrets)

I have a secret vice. Since this blog is the place where I tell all my secrets, I will tell you. It’s The Waltons. Not Sam Walton and the empire of Bentonville, Arkansas. The TV Show. I know what you’re thinking. The Waltons? Yes. The Waltons. I watched it as a child growing up, and I still watch it every chance I get.

I watch it mostly because my childhood was nothing like that, and there is a part of me that wishes desperately that it was. It’s my dream of what life should be. It’s my centering point. My compass.

As a child, I decided I wanted to marry a man just like Zebulon Walton (Grandpa). I’m still looking for him. William is pretty darn close, but without the endlessly laughing eyes and the joyous embracing of life and all that it held.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the Baldwin sisters. Miss Mamie and Miss Emily. You remember the Baldwins? The two sweet little old maiden ladies who lived in a fine old house and made bootleg whiskey which they called “The Recipe”? I adore the Baldwin ladies. They are unfailingly kind and generous. They embrace life. They love each other and care for each other tenderly. They welcome people into their home like they were just sitting there doing nothing but waiting for them to drop by.

I wish we could all be a little more like that.

So tonight, I’m aspiring to be a little more like the Baldwin ladies. Not to make moonshine, mind you, but to try to be kind and gracious to everyone who crosses my path. To think the best of everyone until I have absolute reason not to. To be kind and warm and endlessly hospitable.

They had good hearts, those ladies did. And I want that. I want to look at my heart and see nothing but love.


June 25, 2006


I haven’t posted in a while. None of the ghosts in my heart have rattled their chains or pulled at my heart strings demanding their tales be told.

It’s late at night now. Or rather, early in the morning. My favorite time in the summer. When the world is quiet except for the sound of singing crickets, and there is this feeling of being completely alone. Not alone in a bad sense. An aloneness I revel in. I cherish.

I read Edy’s blog tonight, and cried when I got to her speech at the benefit. About the freefalling. It was (and is) beautifully said.

Things are good right now. It’s okay that William is off in the wilds of Washington, and that I’m not waiting for him. I’m even willing to move on, though I haven’t found the next stone to rest my foot upon. But things are good. Just good. The kind of good where you can sit and smell the night air and think, “This. If this were all there was, it would be enough.”

I’ve found in my life that it’s the little things that get me. Both in the good and the bad ways. The smell of night air. Baby ducklings walking on lily pads. The pain of petty incidents adding up like the straw on the proverbial camel.

The big things, I can deal with those, even when they set my life in a whirlwind for a while. Whirlwinds pass.

I think when I’m dying, I’ll be able to look at my life and know I didn’t miss the roses on the path. Of course, I missed some of them, but a lot of them I’ve captured. I’ve kept them in a box in my mind like a pirate’s treasure. And this is good.

Treasures for my heart.