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When I’d first begun dating Dave, he took me to his friend’s house so that I could meet them.

Sweet, I thought to myself, I’ll choose the BEST shirt I own.

The shirt itself, which I’d once picked up at Old Navy for approximately 42 cents* was a sight to behold – it was Peter Max style –

free to be you and me

I actually had these bedsheets growing up. AND YOU WONDER WHY I’M LIKE THIS.

and prominently displayed across the boobs, “Free To Be You and Me.”

Me, I just liked the bargain.

But I knew the shirt could be, well, BETTER (and it neither involved vodka OR cowbell, I should note): I could add my NAME to the back of it. But not my REAL name; no. My NICKNAME, which was, at the time, “StinkyButt.” Not because my ass reeked or anything, I simply liked that nickname. I mean, what girl ACTIVELY calls herself “StinkyButt?”

(answer: a very select few).

Over at his friend’s house, his friend Rob goes, “Oh my GOD, I LOVE MARLO THOMAS! I grew UP on that record.”

I stared back – completely confused – was he talking about the musical Hair, which I’d been forced to watch on more than one occasion? Or, uh, was it in reference to the StinkyButt name on the back of my shirt.

“Oh my GOD,” Rob said. “You have NO idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

I shook my head slowly and replied slowly – “noooooooooooooo…..

He slapped his forehead. “I’m SO fucking OLD!” he cried. “Wait – are you in high school?”

I giggled a little, “Nope, I’m 22.”

Apparently that answer did NOT help and he groaned, “I’m SO old!”

We both burst into gales of laughter.

—————-

I don’t remember the last time I felt truly free to be (you +) me.

When I got married, I tried everything I could to be a good wife. Dave’s a great guy – I’m sorry if I’ve ever made it sound on my blog that Dave is anything less than a great person. He doesn’t deserve that – we are, as I’ve said to many, simply two people who went their own ways. It’s sad (hence my crying hour) that it had to happen this way – we certainly hadn’t planned to allow things to get as bad as they had.

I’ve always been the classic overachiever – I can do ANYTHING! BRING IT THE FUCK ON! – which included being a good wife and a loving mother. There’s no doubts that I love my children fiercely – they have brought me redemption and filled my world with colors I didn’t know existed. I’ll never regret marrying Dave – without him, my world would never have become as bright as it is.

That said, I didn’t make a good wife.

I won’t say that I didn’t try, because I approach most everything from a balls to the wall, y’all perspective, but the steps I took weren’t enough; no matter homemade lasagnas you make or how spotless the floor is, two people who see the world in very different ways won’t magically see eye-to-eye just because you love one another.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t blame myself for the state of our union any more than I blame Dave: we both played our part and we’re both walking away from this to find our own happy. And in my case, I’m going to find that girl who feels free to be whomever she really is, deep down in there. A girl I can be proud of. A girl who makes her own way, no matter how odd, fucked up, or twisted it may be.

It will be there that I can finally feel free to be (you +) me.

————–

Pranksters, I owe you a debt of gratitude I can only repay (at the moment) with words. Without feeling the love you’ve bestowed upon me; without feeling like I have an army supporting me during my good AND bad moments, I do not know that I would get through this transition as well.

Writing has always been my outlet, my free therapy, and the way in which I process the events in my life – both good AND bad. For nearly a year, I lost that freedom, but not because I was told I could only write about:

No, it was more complicated than that – tell any writer that they cannot write about something fairly big in their lives, and they’ll feel as though their fingers had been chopped off. Suddenly, that’s the only thing I could think to write about and I know that my writing suffered for it. I’d actually considered shutting my blog down because, well, I never had much of value to say.

But in opening up about my marriage and divorce, I suddenly felt as though feeling in my fingers had returned – I’d managed to find the part of me that had been buried for so long. That brings me more joy than I can possibly express.

Knowing that you’re here – that you’ve been here – and that you’ve got my back, there’s no value I can place on that. Every word you’ve written, every email you’ve sent has reminded me that I will, in fact, come through this and be better for it. It all matters.

All of it.

“Thank you,” hardly seems enough, but I’ll say it anyway. Thank you, my friends, my chosen family** for being there for me. It is a debt I will forever owe you.

Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to be free to be (you +) me.

———

*Bargains make my vagina happy.

**No, don’t drink the KoolAid

We went down to the edge of the water,
You were afraid to go in.
You said there might be sharks out there in the ocean,
And I said I’m only going for a swim

-“No Mermaid”

Sinead Lohan

I awoke Monday morning with something gnawing in my guts. Assuming it wasn’t a tapeworm or other types of parasitic organisms, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I tried to ascertain why, exactly, I was panicking.

Oh right.

It’s Monday.

And while I don’t particularly care for Monday’s one way or another, I remembered it was D-Day. The day in which I would tour the apartment complex I had once lived, many lifetimes ago. Sweetly nestled into the banks of the Fox River, surrounded by trees and flowers, the park within walking distance, I knew that if I was going to move out – to create a sanctuary for myself – it would be to this complex. Having lived in the area since I was five, I knew which apartments were good and which were not. These, it turns out, were the best in the area. A quick 3 minute jump across the river from my house, I knew that this was to be my next step.

However, I was still scared shitless.

Never having lived alone before; knowing that I’d be able to make rent as well as keep up on things like “the phone bill,” well, no one said I was born with great common sense. See also my old phone:

no mermaid

(Enlarged to show the AWESOME)

Visibly shaking like an overgrown Chihuahua, I waited for my appointment at 1:30 to tour the property and see how small this unit truly was (answer: not too shabby). I chattered on like I do when I’m nervous to the lady who was showing me the property, explaining that I was going through a divorce and moving out. I fist-bumped myself when I realized I’d only cried once. It was like some kind of record for me.

Back in the manager’s office, I began the arduous task of filling out a mountain of paperwork. It was then that I realized how lazy I’d gotten – I was so accustomed to TYPING that trying to write by hand with my awesome fireworks blister on my index finger on my right hand made my penmanship look as though I’d filled out the application with my toes.

I was all, “Damn, I’m good at filling out shit. Lookit ME knowing the answers and stuff! I should win an award of AWESOMENESS for my right answers! I bet they’ll give me the apartment just for my awesome answers!”

Until I got to That Page.

The one that asks you about your employment history.

I slumped in my chair.

While I do have my own company and a sparkly shiny name for it, I’ve always operated at a total loss – it’s hard to show paystubs when you’re a freelancer who occasionally gets paid by PayPal.

Before that, I was a stay-at-home parent.

I asked the kind lady with sweet eyes what I should do.

“Hmmmm,” she said, thinking. “Can you get a letter from someone saying they’ll vouch for you and pay your rent if you’re short?”

“Yep,” I said, figuring that I’d be able to ask one or two people to help me out by signing a silly piece of paper. If I came up short on rent, I’d rather take out a Craig’s List “fifty dollars a hand-i-job” listing to make up for any amounts I’d be missing* than ask these people for the money. I’m stubborn and my pride often gets me in trouble – which is why I so rarely ask for help. While I *know* what can happen; the scary shit out there, I am no mermaid. I’ve lived a fearful life a long-ass time, and figured that taking this plunge; this path, would help with other stuff along the way. You know, “if” “then” equations?

I digress.

The two people who I asked to sign a stupid piece of paper – not a cosigner, I should add – didn’t quite feel comfortable doing it. They each had their reasons, most of which boiled down to, “we don’t trust that you’ll make your rent.”

Ouch.

Ouch.

OUCH.

Now, I understand the reasoning and that I can be classified as a risk, but I took their (in)actions to heart – maybe I really wasn’t ready for this. Maybe this was a BAD idea. Maybe I’d not be able to make it on my own. Fear took over and I began the process of doubting everything from my ability to wipe my ass to whether or not I’d forget to pay the electric bill.

Monday was an ugly day.

Tuesday morning, I awoke, dropped off some more stuff at the apartment rental office and headed out to therapy. I’d given it my level best, and if this wasn’t the path I was to take, well, I’d find another way somehow. It was entirely up to me, a both terrifying and awesome feeling.

I explained how I was feeling to my therapist, who promptly asked, “why are you basing your self-worth on those people?”

“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t,” I replied.

But it reminded me of the girl I used to be – the girl who took risks, said, “fuck it, why not?” and didn’t give a shit about whether or not someone approved of her actions. That’s the girl I was. That’s the girl I will be. That’s the girl I am. I may be scared shitless, but I am still that girl.

I know this because this morning, at ass-early o’clock, I got a phone call from the apartment complex.

I have an apartment.

I can do this. I know I can.

If, for no other reason than I love being able to prove motherfuckers WRONG.

no-mermaid

I may be living on the river, but I am no mermaid.

Not when I have my army of Pranksters behind me.

*Lies**

**PROBABLY

 

Last night, long after my eldest and youngest were snuggled up in their wee beds, I laid on the couch, snuggled so firmly in my blankets that I looked (and felt) like a marshmallow peep – and not even one of those kicky-shaped ones – trying to figure out if watching a documentary about female serial killers was the best viewing option while dealing with the dreaded “D Word.”

Before I could get too far into my decision-making, I heard the gentle pitter-patter of what I presumed were tiny boy feet shuffling down the stairs.

“Alex?” I called into the hallway, entirely unsure if the noise I was hearing was the cats barreling through the hallway like they’d just taken a particularity awesome dump.

patter, patter, patter

“Hi Mama,” he said sheepishly, his big eyes, so similar to my own keenly watching me, knowing he was out of bed too late and that I may (but probably not) reprimand him.

“Hi Baby,” I replied, opening my arms wide so he could jump into them and snuggle with me a moment. “Whatchu need, Little One?” I asked gently, moving the hair out of his eyes and scratching his head lightly with my fingers, which he loves.

“Mama,” he looked at me, his eyes so soulful, as if he could see what was behind my own eyes and liked what he saw. “Mama, I’m hungry. I didn’t want to tell you before because (mumbles) but I’m hungry.”

I laughed a little, which came out as a chocked representation of a laugh – the kid is always coming up with weird requests, trying to stall bedtime as long as he could. Sleep, even as a fetus, has always been elusive for Alex, and as a fellow insomniac, I understand all-too-well.

“Whatchu hungry for, Baby?” I asked.

“Mama,” he said, scurrying around the kitchen looking for it, “I smell pizza.”

“I don’t know about that, Baby – we don’t have any pizza,” I explained, “but maybe we could make some tomorrow.”

“How about I give you some crackers to go back to bed with – I know how it is to be hungry,” I suggested.

He thought about it a moment, his small face squinching into a mask of uncertainty – the same look I get when I’m asked what I want from Starbucks – eventually replying, “Yeah, like in a baggie?” His face lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Sure, Baby, I can do that,” I said, pulling out the box of Saltines and handing him exactly five while he scampered off to find me a baggie to put them in. For some reason, Ziploc baggies are like kid-crack in my house.

“Why’d you give me five?” he asked, always looking the gift horse in the mouth.

“Because YOU’RE five,” I told him.

“So when I’m six, I’ll get six?” He asked.

“Yeppers!” I replied.

“How many do YOU get, Mama?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t usually eat Saltines, Baby, but if I did, I’d get 32,” I replied.

“You’d waste them ALL,” he said, eyes widening. “Because you don’t like them. How about you give ME 32, instead, so we don’t waste them?” My con-man, at his finest.

“Next time I get 32 Saltines, Baby, I’ll give them all to you,” I assured him. Because I would. Those things taste like sawdust and pregnancy.

I followed my middle child and his baggie of crackers up the stairs, where I tucked him in. “You gonna come check on me, Mama?” he asks, as he does every night.

“Yep, of course, Baby,” I assured him. “I always do.”

“How about in 30?” he asked, specifying no frame of time in particular – could be days, hours, minutes or seconds.

“Okay, Lovie, in 30,” I said, a smile – the first of the day – playing on the corners of my lips.

I went back downstairs, my children tucked neatly in their beds again and resumed my internal debate – to watch women serial killer documentaries or pick something blander – I couldn’t decide, which turned out to be a good thing, because the next thing I heard was:

patter, patter, patter

Alex, again.

“Whatchu doing, Baby?” I asked.

He sat down next to me in my blanket cocoon, where I once again wrapped my arms around him. “Mama?” he said. “I’m sorry you’re so sad.”

Tears welled up in my already-raw eye sockets (pro tip: do not use paper towels as Kleenex while hysterical. Leaves you looking like you have had a particularly bad chemical peel), as I tried to figure out what to say.

“I’m not sad with you, Baby,” I assured him. “Sometimes grown-ups get sad because stuff happens that they don’t expect.”

His eyes, wise beyond his years, nodded.

“But you make me so very happy, J,” I finished. “You’ve made my life so much better.”

He smiled at that thought.

“The second you were born,” I told him, “You made my life better. I was so happy – I’d wanted another little baby so badly and there you were.”

“I peed on the doctor, right?” he asked, giggling.

“You sure did,” I said proudly.

“I was in a bad place when I got pregnant with you,” I went on.

“Like a deep pit?” he asked, always one to make a superhero connection.

“Yeah, Baby, like a deep pit. But it wasn’t a real pit; it was in my head,” I said, hoping to dissuade the notion that I’d been trapped in a well or down at Old Man Crusty-Balls farm – whatever the Scooby Doo shit was.

“Wait – how was it in your head?” he said as I realized I’d just gone above-level on the poor guy.

I had a lot of really hard things happen for a long time and I was very, very sad,” I said, trying to explain as best I could.

Once more, I wrapped my arms around my squirmy son, and kissed his head, trying not to let the tears show.

“I’m sorry you were sad, Mama,” he said, clucking sympathetically.

“It’s okay, Baby, I wanted YOU to know how happy YOU make me,” I told him.

in-his-eyes

“I love you, Mama,” Alex said, holding me close. “You make ME happy.”

And with those three words, I knew that while everyone many people in my life may think I’m a fuck-up or a failure, in his eyes, I will always be Mama – and HIS Mama, she is no failure.

Until about age 16, but we’re not going there yet.

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