BE BRAVE


be braveIt has been 27 days, nearly four weeks, almost a month. I have not pried open my laptop and let my fingers move gingerly across the keys. Instead, I have avoided. I have shut out the noise. There has not been any lack of fodder and my life has not stopped moving. Circumstances have arisen that have given me pause and prompted me to think but nothing has allowed me to cross over the line and actually write.

With Turn to Stone, I literally turned to stone. I exhausted myself but, oddly, thankfully, something inspired me today. After being in hiding with my flesh wounds still raw, my pain exposed and my heart laying naked on the table, I decided to peek my head around the corner to see if the coast was clear. Is was finally time for me to return to my commitment to myself to tell my story, be brave and courageous and step out into the light.

Earlier this month, I was in Kansas City working and visiting with my friend. I love Kansas City because it is so different to me yet feels so familiar. It often amazes me that I have grown such affection for the city when, up until a few years ago, I honestly could not have located it on a map. Being a native New Yorker, my geographical knowledge never spanned far beyond the major cities on the east and west coasts. Chicago comprised the whole of the midwest and Florida encapsulated the south. In my adult life, as a result of my business travel, I visited places I never expected to see like Dallas, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Arkansas, Denver and many other wonderful cities and states that allowed me to truly expand my horizons. I stumbled upon Kansas City because I started working with and befriended someone who lived there. Initially, I needed to go there for work and, after several trips, I found myself really looking forward to my visits, thinking about my favorite restaurants and being comforted by my growing familiarity. When I first traveled there, I had anticipated something very different from what I ultimately experienced. I did not expect the beauty of the architecture, the culture, the diversity, the amazing cuisine. It has become a special home away from home for me. And, it does not hurt that I have some dear friends there too.

During my last trip, I asked my friend if I could borrow his car and do some exploring on my own. He was planning to make dinner for us and his partner and, rather than just feeling like a houseguest, I wanted to treat this like I would a dinner at a friend’s home in my own town. I wanted to get some wine and dessert and decided I needed to go out and do this on my own. After having been there quite a few times, I had some ideas of where to go but I decided to break away from my planned route and see what would happen if I just wandered out. Sometimes the most wonderful experiences happen when we give up our plans and just let things happen on their own. Relinquishing the control and allowing the universe to guide you is often a rewarding and gratifying experience. For me, there was a serenity that came with being free in this city that I had come to love and finding whatever places crossed my path.

I suppose this hardly seems a story worth telling as, I recognize for most, it might seem like quite the banal experience of driving around, finding some shops, walking through neighborhoods and doing some shopping. Yes, for some, it might very well be run of the mill. But not me. For me, it was bliss. For me, it was freedom. For me, it was a connection point that I so desperately craved. For me, it was truly extraordinary.

I don’t go off course. It is a rare occasion when I let go of the structure of my life and allow myself to let loose. I spend so much time being focused on not fucking things up. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the bad directions the road can take me in. I rarely stop and smell the flowers. I have been conditioned to worry. I have been well-trained to plan for the worst case scenario. And, for good reasons. The worst case has come my way more times than I care to recall. Yet, I have thought long and hard about my desperate need for structure and whether it fits into my life anymore. I have pondered the notion that perhaps I am carrying around some old baggage that no longer suits my life. Sure, my life is complicated. There are bad things that happen but maybe – just maybe – the worst case is not as bad as I remember it being. Maybe I have new tools that allow me to handle the obstacles that cross my path and present seeming roadblocks. Perhaps they are just pebbles or loose debris that I can drive around or even drive over without feeling the bump. I have not yet allowed myself to imagine that reality. I have embraced and clung to my ideas around survival. And, as a result, I have missed the possibility of actually living and experiencing life from a very different vantage point.

Fear holds me back. It is debilitating at times. The uncertainty of what might occur when I give up the control and stop trying to predict the outcomes is terrifying and paralyzing. How can I survive when I do not know what is coming my way? I remember one of my mother’s favorite expressions being “People plan and God laughs.” I hated when she said it because it was so contradictory to how she lived her life. She never left room for imagination. Everything had to be structured and anticipated. She reprimanded me whenever I took risks or lived outside the lines. I never contemplated her reasons for having to live such a structured life but I understood that my own need was rooted in the fear of complete destruction. If I can at least see the lights of the train as it headed in my direction, I might have enough time to jump off the tracks and save my own life. But, of course, that suggests that I believe that there is usually a training heading around the corner and I am in jeopardy of being decimated. Perhaps, instead, I could feel confident that I can boldly walk the tracks and know that, in the off-chance this abandoned track line actually sees a train, I will have the wisdom and strength to jump out of the way in time. I really don’t need to see the lights in the distance, I just need to be able to react when the whistle blows.

I have thought a lot, in the past few weeks, about my day in Kansas City. There was something about the warm air, the sunny skies, the lack of responsibility (my husband and children were at home in NJ) and the possibility that filled my lungs as I breathed in and out. I parked my friend’s car in a cute little section of town, in search of a store where I could buy a card for him and his partner. I wanted to find a little something special for them. I walked from shop to shop and stumbled across a wonderful little store where I discovered an array of goodies that were just what I was looking for.

After I paid for my purchases and I was getting ready to leave the store, I looked up at the wall and saw a print that literally took my breath away. It said:

Be brave.

I thought maybe

if I wrote the words down,

read them every day,

traced them with my fingers…

I could live them.

I could let go of this “maybe” life,

and be brave enough to say yes…

brave enough to say no.

And then, in all the uncertainty,

around me, I could be certain

of this, that I was brave

enough to love, to laugh…

to cry…to be me…that I was brave

enough to really live.

Well, well…maybe the universe was, in fact, behind the wheel driving me around that day.

MARRIAGE


marriage“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Unknown

My husband came home from work today, after hanging out with some guys at the bar to watch the Masters, and said “I think we are becoming a minority.” Knowing my husband as I do, I could have gone in so many different directions with that comment. I looked quizzically at him and, as has happened hundreds of times in the 21 years we have been together, he realized I had no idea what he was referring to. “It seems like we are the only ones left married,” he said smirking. I laughed, knowing he was being facetious but I also stopped for a second and took in a deep breath. He is right. Maybe it’s because of our age, maybe it’s because of where we live, maybe it’s because of our circle of friends and acquaintances but, whatever the reason, it seems like every day we learn of more and more couples splitting up. Today he learned about yet another and, as is always the case, it sends chills down your spine. You can’t help but wonder if one day it will be you. I cannot deny that there have been moments – more than I care to admit – that I wondered if our marriage would survive.

I entered into marriage completely clueless. I had no role models. I had no reference point. Frankly, I had no interest in getting married. I had determined, at a pretty young age, that I wanted to have a fantastic career and would not submit to giving up my dreams for any man. And, I certainly did not want to have kids. Sure, I was a feminist. I was also broken from all that I had experienced in my childhood that I couldn’t even imagine a reality where I could be happily married. By the time I was in college, my mother had been married and divorced 3 times and was on her way to her fourth. My father had 2 under his belt and my sister, 14 years my senior, had just split up with her husband. She would go on to marry 2 more times. I wanted nothing to do with all this. I was not interested in participating in this ritual that seemingly always had an unhappy ending.

I was a serial dater after I got out of college. I would meet guys, date them, break up, find another, date them, break up, find another and the cycle went on and on. Nobody lasted more than weeks or maybe a few months and the relationships never went very deep. I had so much intimacy with all of my gay boyfriends that I never felt needy in that way. If it were not for sex, I would have been content to hang with my gay posse forever, collect some cats and become a living, breathing stereotype. I simply did not see a pathway that would ever lead me to wedded bliss. I had a great career, was starting to make some money and had, what I believed to be, a relatively glamorous life. I worked for a major movie studio optioning books for movies so I spent my evenings going to plays, movie premieres, parties, fancy dinners – all surrounded by the largest group of gay men imaginable. I guess, perhaps one of the reasons I could not see the pathway was because there were not very many suitable candidates crossing my lane.

I met my husband when I was 24. When I think about it now, I realize how I was still an emotional amoeba. I simply knew nothing about the world yet I had lived what felt like 5 lifetimes sorting through the turmoil of my family’s drama. We met as friends – he and I were both dating other people (he was living with someone!) so there was no pressure on the relationship. He seemed like a nice enough guy and, much to my amazement, I found myself quickly intrigued by him. The relationship became romantic very quickly and, after we sorted out our other conflicts, we started dating for real. Both of us being somewhat impulsive, dating lasted about two minutes before we fell remarkably, passionately, overwhelmingly in love. He was my soulmate. I could not imagine how I could spend one minute away from him, which was extraordinarily difficult since he lived 3000 miles away on the other side of the country. We managed to find ways to see each other several times a month and each visit was filled with anticipation – heart-racing, soulful expectation. And every goodbye was marked with tears, sometimes painful and gut-wrenching, because we could not imagine how we would be able to fill our lungs with oxygen without the other to move the diaphragm. We so quickly became a symbiotic unit and every thought I ever had about not wanting to marry went out the window like a paper floating away in a brisk March wind. My fears or uncertainty about how I could sustain a relationship seemed foolish and immature. Here I was madly in love and all I could think about, even at the tender age of 25, was how fast I could begin my life as his wife.

We got engaged in less than 6 months and just a little more than 2 years after we met, we walked down the aisle in a lovely spring wedding and began a whole new chapter in our lives. We set out to right the wrongs of our parents. We vowed to do it differently. We committed to break the cycle. We blindly, ignorantly, whimsically set out on what seemed like a perfectly paved pathway together.

Next month will be 19 years since that lovely spring wedding. 19 years – nearly two decades! In contrast, his parents’ marriage lasted 13 years, my parents stuck it out for 15 before they separated, my sister’s ended at year 14. There was a moment, several years ago, that we realized that we had hit some magical milestone in our family. We were officially the longest married couple. We made a toast. And returned to our blissfully banal life. We have expanded our symbiotic union by two with sons that keep us grounded and focused and remind us why we decided to enter this extremely challenging and complex obstacle course.

In 19 years we have had more than our share of fights and far too many moments, through tears, that we each gritted our teeth and questioned our beliefs. That perfectly paved pathway has revealed many cracks, uprooted roots that have pushed up the concrete and we have tripped and fallen many, many times. We have been challenged to find the intoxicating love that left us in tears when we could not be together every moment of the day. Now the tears were rage-filled and that love was nowhere to be found. Well, actually, it was buried beneath piles and piles of hurt feelings, unkind words, bad choices, anger, resentment and all the wonderful things that are often hallmarks of long-term relationships riddled with financial woes, exhaustion from child rearing and general disappointments that life did not turn out to have the fairy tale ending you dreamt of. For some couples that is where it all goes awry. For many, the challenges become too untenable and the relationship dissolves. For us, we had many sleepless nights, raging battles and days where we could barely look at each other because we loathed the sight of the other but we pushed through. Perhaps the fear of splitting up was more overwhelming than the notion of trying to tolerate each other another day, but we persevered. Despite our efforts to hold it together, I was certain we were doomed. Everyone around us seemed so happy. Their marriages looked so healthy. Everyone seemed to be having sex ALL THE TIME while I couldn’t muster the energy to even think about it most of the time. Everyone appeared to be blissfully in love, even after the trials of marriage had weathered their bond. They all seemed to have a healthier, stronger, more powerful attachment and I didn’t see how my marriage could ever compare.

The joke was on me, of course. Sure, some couples seem to have the good fortune of peaceful and loving relationships and personalities that are not like firecrackers with short fuses and a lit match. Many couples, however, put on a good show when everyone is looking in order to make the pain of their own unhappiness less visible in hopes that it will make their misery more manageable. They sweep it under the rug and put on a good face, hoping no one will notice, existing in silent desperation. For me, I had to learn to stop looking around for comps and spend more time looking at my own relationship and understanding what it needed to work properly. When I searched my soul, I knew I loved my husband on the deepest level and could not imagine a life without him. I needed to focus in on that and stop worrying about the window dressing. None of that shit mattered.

As I watched so many friends delight in the sparkle of new relationships after their marriages ended and they were reborn into these new loves, I had to dig deep to find a way to reconnect with the man who changed my life and brought peace to a war-torn girl. I doubted, I questioned, I ached, I cried, I searched, I begged for mercy. And then I fell in love all over again. This time, I fell in love with the old pair of shoes lying in the back of the closet that I had forgotten were hiding out, stuffed underneath some boxes of new shoes that were so shiny and inviting. I slipped into those shoes and they felt warm and comfortable, and my feet knew exactly how to mold themselves into the leather. They were perfectly suited for me. I exhaled and I opened my eyes wide to find that nothing ever changed between my husband and me. We still loved each other deeply – in fact, we were much more in love than we had ever been but we had lost our way. We fell victim to the complications of life. We stopped paying attention, took our eyes off the road as the car careened into the woods. It was a bit dented but still ran pretty well and just needed someone to get behind the wheel and steer it onto a new road.

I love my husband more today than I ever could have imagined that pretty spring day 19 years ago. I look into the eyes I have stared into millions of times and I see our lifetime together. Soon we will be together longer than we have not. Now we fit together like two puzzle pieces that slide together so easily. There were days we had to shove ourselves together, taking a second look to see if, in fact, we were the right pair of pieces but, now, it is easier. Sure, we still take each other for granted at times and we still have trouble finding time and energy to have quiet intimate moments but I know, without any uncertainty, that there is no one else I would travel the road of life with. We are a real story, a 3-dimensional, full-color, reality of married life. We are imperfect, we hurt each other, we make mistakes. And, we love each other with everything we have. And we fall in love over and over again.