be yourself. everyone else is taken.

At the end of my marriage, after Bryce and I had decided to divorce but before I had moved out of the house, we had a conversation standing in our sun-soaked kitchen that might prove to be the crowning achievement of our marriage.  We agreed that we had had a conventional marriage.  We had done everything we were “supposed” to do.  We had lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Except our own.  We vowed that our divorced relationship would be different.  We would make it what we wanted it to be, not what others thought was “right” or “appropriate” or, God forbid, “normal.”  We would craft something that worked for us and our children and everyone else could just deal with it — or not.  They weren’t our problem, and we’d spent too much of our lives living a relationship that had made everyone else comfortable and us eventually miserable.

To our credit — and my astonishment — we have kept that word to each other and ourselves.  Some people in our wide circle are uncomfortable with our situation.  How do we get along so well?  Why do we sit together — with our partners, even! — at school functions for our children?  Are we actually — gasp! — friends??? But fortunately those individuals are pretty rare.  Most of the people in our wide circle applaud us for fashioning something that is different from the standard divorced relationship paradigm.  I think they can see that it’s good for our children, but I also think that they can see that it’s good for us, too.  We are still, in many ways, a family, even though we are most definitely not a couple.  This makes us happy, and that’s really all that matters.

It has not always been an easy task — this concept of carving out a new relationship through the jungle of established habits, familial expectations, and emotional scars.  There have been times of post-divorce conflict, when one of us has had to remind the other of our shared vision for a healthy divorced relationship that works for all of us.  But those reminders have always successfully steered us back on course, which is, in and of itself, amazing.

It has been my experience that most of the dramatic change we experience in ourselves does not last.  We try on a new version of ourselves, wear it for a while, and then it loses its novelty and fades away.  And pretty soon we’re back to basically the same person we always were.  It’s as if our essential nature is some kind of homeostasis to which we return after a short disruption.  I am so very glad and very grateful that Bryce and I have remained strongly committed to that vision we shared that day in the kitchen.  And it has taught me that I am capable of making something different than what is the norm in our circle, and having that work for me. That lesson has been rolling around in my mind this week as I have unpacked the emotional shifts and “aha!” moments that occurred within me during my short visit back East.

And let’s just say, it’s been a busy week.

I’ve settled back into my Colorado life, but with some new understandings of what I want this life to look like and who I want to be in it.  I keep coming back around to the idea that the relationship model that works for so many around me is not going to work for me, and it is entirely likely that the romantic relationship that makes me the happiest might not make sense to other people.  And that’s okay.  Other people don’t have to be comfortable with it.  As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I just need to be happy being me.

When I was much younger, I knew this about myself.  Katrina and  I used to half-jokingly say that she would be the school-teacher with 2.3 children and a house in suburbs, and I would be the cool “aunt” who would jet in from some far-flung end of the globe, bearing wonderful gifts and fun stories.  There was no judgment inherent in either path; we loved each other too much and too purely to have judged each other harshly.  It was simply an acknowledgment of our different approaches to life.

As it turns out, I did far more of the white-picket-fence experience than anyone ever expected or could have predicted, including me.  And I don’t regret a second of it.  Truly.  But I also see now that the choices that I have been making since my divorce were subconsciously guided by my need to create something different.  Those choices have made sense to some of my friends but not to others, who have offered well-intentioned advice shared with love.  I think I felt disapproval and internalized that in a way that left me confused about my vision for what I wanted my life and romantic relationships to be.  My friends wanted me to be happy, and so they encouraged me to be happy in the things that make them happy.  This is logical and kind and I treasure their good intentions.  But in my post-divorce state, I think it only served to confuse me.  Unlike in my endeavor with Bryce, I felt alone in my journey and I lost my clear vision of who and what I am and want to be as an individual.

But now I remember.

I have lately felt that I am my truest self again.  I feel at home with who I am and what I want and the understanding that it might be different from what others want from me or for me.  But the honest truth is, what they ultimately want is for me to be myself, whether they fully know it or not.  Because when I am most myself is also when I am most sought after by my friends.  We all naturally gravitate to people who are truly comfortable with themselves, who are real and present and open to the world. Whatever version of ourselves places us squarely in that description is truly our best version of ourselves.

Each of us must steer our own ship.  Only we command the helm.  The waves of opinion and expectation may buffet us, but if we hold a true course, we will reach our destination safely and triumphantly.  That is our challenge, every single day.

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Filed under divorce, friendships, general musings, personal growth, relationships, single mom

finding myself, alongside a high school mascot

Joke:

What’s the difference between a hockey game and a high school reunion?

At a hockey game you see fast pucks.

Sometimes, I turn around and run smack into myself in the most unlikely of places. It is in those moments when I see myself clearly – the good and the bad – and make my best peace with who I am.

I am returning from four days in my hometown, having cashed in some frequent-flyer miles to make the journey back for my 25-year high school reunion. It was a two-day event, and during that time, I luxuriated in the warmth and acceptance of friendships nearly as old as me. I observed how quickly we all fell into the easy understanding that comes from spending a whole childhood together. I laughed when a classmate spilled her red wine on me and apologized profusely; I reminded her that it was hardly the first glass of wine she’d spilled on me, and hopefully would not be the last. She laughed, too.

Along with my high school reunion, I also spent many hours reconnecting with college friends and even bumped into a treasured friend who has known me since infancy. My weekend was rife with intimate moments – trading parenting challenges with a college sorority sister, sharing a quiet moment of giggles with the man to whom I’d lost my virginity, walking into a Starbucks and discovering a former neighbor who’d done everything from babysitting me to lecturing me on safe sex as a teenager. These are people from whom I could not have hidden myself, even had I wanted to. These are people who knew me long before I’d perfected any masks or defense mechanisms or means of deflecting the truth. I could see, in their faces and their dealing with me, the clearest reflection I’d seen of myself in a long time.

I also discovered, as I stood amidst my classmates, how very right and included I felt. In my adult life in Colorado, I frequently feel a bit out of place… different… odd. I am often very aware that my sensibilities and independent spirit separate me from many I know. I realized over this past weekend, as I watched my former classmates and their partners, that my particular form of independence is partly a function of where and how I grew up. In junior high school, my friends and I were hopping on the Metro to spend the day in DC without a chaperone. Classmates left and then reappeared after a parent’s assignment to an embassy in a country on the other side of the world. Nearly all my college friends studied and/or lived abroad. Most of them did not marry until their late 20’s. There was an expectation that one would explore and know the world to some degree before settling down. The couples I talked to this weekend all (literally all) had hobbies and interests of their own, as well as ones they shared with their partners. Girls’ weekends and guys’ weekends away were common, even expected. Lives were shared, not enmeshed. These conversations were vastly different from those I have with my friends in Colorado.

By the end of the weekend, I realized how starved for this I have been. I moved to Colorado as an engaged woman and nearly all the friends Bryce and I made as a couple followed in the paradigm I thought he preferred and seemed comfortable with: the couple did nearly everything together, all the time. Hobbies, including sports, were shared together. Most child-rearing responsibilities fell to the woman and financial support to the man, and family life revolved almost entirely around the children and their activities. And within a few years of living in this paradigm, I felt stifled, suffocated, and sad.

Well, no wonder.

That’s not to say, of course, that this particular marriage model is unique in any way to Colorado, nor that it is the only model present in our town. But, for whatever reason, this is the model that I found myself surrounded with and from which I rebelled when I left my husband and broke up my family. And, for whatever reason, it is still the primary model I see around me as a single woman now. But it is a model that still chafes at me, leaving a raw, red patch on my soul, requiring attention and adjustment, lest it fester and infect my sense of myself once again.

Half-way through my weekend, my friend Ryan asked me what I had discovered so far this weekend. With hardly a breath’s hesitation, I answered, “Me. I found myself again.” And I really meant it. After high school ended, and over the course of many, many years, I slowly lost sight of myself. I watched as the parts of me I liked best became obscured and diminished. At times I fought hard to secure those pieces, but other times I surrendered them with little protest. But this weekend, I felt fully and completely whole again. And what a beautiful feeling it is.

Annie and I have often noted that the people who seem happiest post-divorce are those who achieved whatever they left their marriages to pursue. In some cases, that might be a more robust career, or to escape a controlling or abusive spouse, or to find peace from a high-conflict relationship, or to find love beyond what they had in their marriage. This weekend has caused me to re-think why it is that I left and what it is that I am seeking. I am seeing more clearly how the choices that I have made since my divorce belie my true heart’s desire. How funny it is when we realize why we have been doing what we have been doing…

As I was leaving the reunion, my best friend from the 6th grade gave me a long hug and whispered in my ear as we both fought back tears, “You’ve been away for so long. I hope I see you again.”

I hope I see you, too, my old friend. And I hope you always see me.

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Filed under friendships, personal growth, relationships

thomas murray: the bad penny who always turns up

In the midst of a weekend of unexpected encounters, this appeared on my blog comment list for my post thomas murray:  a cautionary tale:

“honestly, you are a c*nt… most of us can’t belive you since you are lostin the landscape and he hasn’t mentioned you, so be gone you fucking c*nt of a human. HE knows who you work for and he ruins lives…so just wait… he knows everything..do you really want him giving up you secrets?? No worries they are close. so many people are regulated and on top of who you are. The man you chose to make words with, isn’t just any man.

JKR”

[Blogger’s note:  I left in the misspellings and bad grammer.  Just for fun.}

Oh, Thomas. Surely you give me more credit than this? Surely you realize that I am smarter than you, and that anything you attempt to do to me will only come down on you tenfold? Yes, you know where I work, but no, you don’t actually know my secrets. You know what you think are my secrets, but again, please don’t discount my intelligence. Did it ever occur to you that I shared “secrets” with you to test your mettle? To see your responses and determine your strength as a man and integrity as a person? Are you so certain — even now — that you were not played, discovered and discarded?

And be careful, dear Thomas, whom you threaten. I have far too many people who love me in positions of power beyond your imagination who could make you seriously regret even threatening to harm me. Do not forget where I was born and raised, nor whom I grew up alongside. Always understand that my goodness has, and always will, trump your evil, and that even people with little conscience and too much power value goodness. So please, put the keyboard down and back away slowly before you or someone who used to love you gets hurt anymore. I know exactly who I’m dealing with and have made all the necessary accommodations. Unlike you, I am not impulsive or sloppy. I have been waiting for you to make a threat such as this — and do you realize that using the internet to do so makes it an interstate crime and therefore under federal jurisdiction? 🙂 Oh, Thomas, you really are the idiot I took you for. It’s almost entertaining.

I am further disappointed, my narcissistic friend, to see that you have not reconsidered your excessive drinking and associated behaviors. I would have thought that your Puerto Rican exploits might have given you pause to perhaps limit your imbibing of your precious rum.  But alas, your hubris once again outweighs your common sense.  What a pity.

For those of you who are relatively new to the fun game of Thomas pretending to be someone else, I know this is Thomas for several reasons… many of which I will not reveal, but here’s a fun little tidbit: After Thomas’ ill-conceived and even worse-executed jaunt to Puerto Rico with Jenni, a little searching uncovered a blog he’d been writing for www.usedboatyard.com. (Okay, so maybe he didn’t exactly own all those yachts; maybe he was simply the hired help with grandiose ideas of his own importance…) Particularly telling was this post, in which he even references his trip to Puerto Rico and the “unforeseen issues” that arose on that trip (those being, presumably, Jenni’s drugging, subsequent abuse, and his carefully constructed house of cards collapsing around him). As you’ll see, the writer is none other than the writer of this lovely comment.  However, the writer of usedboatyard post was previously identified as “T.” and used the same IP address as Thomas did for his infamous (and fake) blog, “Morning Wood,” as well as other past and current blogs. After the Puerto Rico debacle was revealed, he pulled down the blogs he’d been writing at the time and changed the blogger name on the usedboatyard site to DD. I expect now he’ll change it to something else and assume that we are all too stupid or unaware to connect the dots.

Thomas also attempted to post a comment on my post there’s no place like home, to gallantly warn Pete that I am “c*nty.” I’m not sure that’s even a word, or just Thomas’ poor vocabulary waving at us again.   Also, am I the only one to have noticed that, for a man who preached excessively about the importance of “being a gentleman,” he has routinely shown himself to be anything but?  I’m fairly certain that most gentleman don’t publicly describe anything or anyone as “c*nty.”  And I don’t know about you, my readers, but I find Thomas’ predilection for referring to himself in the third person exceptionally tiresome. Really, Thomas, would you please just humor us all and refrain from that particular sin? It’s really quite annoying, and an immediate indicator of a simple mind.

Anyway, in continuing fulfillment of my promise to keep writing as long as he keeps preying, I add this post to the growing category of “Thomas Murray,” and I will no longer hope aloud that he goes away. I have given up on his reformation and so only hope now for word to spread to the extent that he is always thwarted. So, ladies be warned and be vigilant. Remind your friends to approach men they meet on the internet – and all men who seem too good to be true – with a heavy amount of skepticism. It’s not because they are not amazing women deserving of something too good to be true; it’s because men of that ilk are ridiculous and, worse, potentially dangerous. Don’t be fooled and don’t be taken in. Our best protection is each other.

P.S. — One last thing:  It was a delightful source of giggles that Thomas has finally adopted a moniker that suits him — “JKR,” which one can only assume is a shortened version of JOKER.  Yes, I believe that is about right.  Of the Batman/Jack Nicholoson, ridiculous-mutation-of-a-human-variety.  If others of you have additional ideas as to what JKR might stand for, I await those with bated breath!

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Filed under dating, internet dating, relationships, single mom, thomas murray

there’s no place like home

I am 30,000 feet above the Earth, somewhere over the American mid-west, hurtling toward my hometown of Washington DC. The premise for my trip is my 25th high school class reunion, but for me, it is much more than that.

I was born in DC, at Georgetown University Hospital, and raised just outside the city in a leafy Maryland suburb that was staunchly upper middle-class at the time. After my father died, my mom did everything she could to keep us in that neighborhood on her meager salary and a government check, because the schools were some of the best in the country and the neighbors were warm and supportive. I grew up in and out of the kitchens of various neighbors. The older kids were my babysitters, and the younger ones my surrogate siblings. I felt safe, and loved, and fully unaware that I was lacking anything.

For many of my friends, DC was a city they rarely ventured into, but not so for me. Despite our financial struggles (or maybe because of them), my mom and I spent quite a bit of time downtown. DC is a town that can be enjoyed on a shoe-string, if you know how to do it. Certainly you miss out on the fabeled eateries and extraordinary theater offerings, but I grew up knowing my way around the Smithsonian museums by the time I was in middle school. The National Zoo fed my love of animals, and every Fourth of July, we spread a blanket near the Washington monument and oohed and aahed as fireworks exploded over the Lincoln Memorial. I grew up biking and roller skating through Rock Creek Park, and every year my mom would squirrel away enough pennies to dress me up and take me to the Kennedy Center, usually around Christmas time. My friends and I used the Metro to venture into all parts of the city, even those that would have sent our parents reeling, had they known. We hiked into Georgetown (not served by the Metro because, at the time of its design, the snobby muckety-mucks thought the subway would bring in “the wrong element”), and we cried over the Vietnam War Memorial, returning to school and demanding of our teachers why we were not taught about that part of history (it wasn’t yet part of the standard curriculum in the mid-1980’s, beyond a short mention).

After living in several other places, I returned to life in the city when I attended law school in DC, and got to know my hometown in entirely new ways. I lived in a historical but tired part of town that was gradually gentrifying. During my last visit, I was astonished to see how upscale it had become, but relieved that its gentrification had saved the glorious old movie theater with the balcony where I’d gone on countless dates.

It was while I was in law school that I finally followed in my dad’s footsteps and headed to Capitol Hill. I stumbled into an amazing job as a lobbyist (ahem, “advocate,” since non-profits are not allowed to lobby) for a national child welfare non-profit. It was a heady time in DC, and for me personally, although my stint in the music business had fortunately insulated me from being star-struck by mere senators or chiefs of staff. I mean, what was a White House invitation when you’d been on tour with a major rock band? I loved my work and worked harder than I ever had before or since. Fourteen-hour workdays were frequent, and my friendships revolved around my work, as is common in our nation’s capital.

Leaving DC was not difficult for me. I was ready. I was tired of the hours, tired of the stress, tired of the status-seeking behavior of those around me. I longed for a better work-life balance and for people who didn’t ask me what I did for a living within the first 30 seconds of conversation. And I wanted to have and raise a family without having to move out to the cow pastures to find an affordable home. So, when I visited Colorado and fell in love with it, I didn’t look back. And 15 years later, I rarely have.

The last time I came to DC was almost exactly 4 years ago, over Thanksgiving. Under the partially-true pretense that my dearest friend from college, Caitlyn, needed my help with her infant daughter while her husband Caleb was out of the country, I escaped to her house for nearly a week, lost in my thoughts and confusion. We ran errands, drank wine, ate brownies for dinner, and delicately unraveled the giant ball of twine that my emotions around my marriage had become. It was to Caitlyn that I first uttered the word “divorce” in reference to my own life, and it was lying awake in her guest bedroom where I finally realized that I truly didn’t love my husband anymore. I returned home more sad than when I’d left, but also more clear about the gravity of the situation in front of me. This time I will be staying at Caitlyn’s house again — my life so changed and our friendship so the same.

Some people say that you can’t go home again, and I suppose in many ways that’s true. But I would argue that it depends on what you’re seeking there. My friends in the DC area know me in ways my friends out West simply can’t, because they know where I came from, and what made me who I am. They saw me grow fundamentally into the person I became and always will be. There is something intimate in having known each other before puberty, during braces and pimples, through countless fashion disasters and relationship crises. Many of my kindergarten class will be at my high school reunion this weekend, as will the boy I lost my virginity to, and my first “frenemy.” And wedged alongside the high school reunion festivities, I will be meeting up with two more college friends whose friendships have left indelible marks on my life. These people are my life’s context, the fabric that creates the texture of my history. Somewhere along the way, life mostly evens out, and the friends we make at that point, while no less important or valuable, know only the mostly-finished product; they never glimpse the raw materials.

When I was going through my divorce, I faced all sorts of judgment and criticism from supposed friends in my community. Their reactions left me feeling betrayed and deflated. One night, while chatting with a friend I grew up with but haven’t seen in 20 years, I asked her why none of my hometown friends had asked me why I was getting divorced. “I think it’s probably because we all know you,” she said simply. “And we know that you’re smart and a good person. And we figure if you chose to do this, then it was the right thing for you to do.” Her words sustained me for weeks afterward, as I muddled through the self-doubts and fears of those early month of separation.

Washington, DC will always be my hometown, even if it’s no longer my home. When I come back to DC now, it’s not to reclaim some distant past or slip into the persona of a former me. I love the life I have made in Colorado, and I feel secure in the decisions that carried me from hometown. But sometimes… just sometimes… it’s nice to go home again and sink into the familiar, the known, and the understood. Just for a little while.

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target date

Last night, after I attended two Back-to-School picnics with my daughters, Pete and I stole away for some special, quality time alone.

At Super Target.

That’s right, folks.  We went grocery shopping together.  I helped him pick out a new shower curtain, and he stood gamely by while I picked up a new blush compact and some bagels.

This is what passes for romance when you’re both single parents of two small children each.  Sexy, no?

But, to be honest, it was really nice.  We strolled along, him pushing the cart, me holding his arm.  I poked around through the handbags (I can’t resist handbags anywhere) and he weighed in on the ineffectiveness of using 3M Command Strip hooks to hang up towels.  We kicked off our shoes to test drive the bathmats, and he made jokes about what a shame it was that the bedding section didn’t actually have any beds to, you know, “try out.”   Weaving through the aisles, we chatted aimlessly about the kids and work and various bits and pieces that I don’t even remember.

What I do remember is how nice it felt.

When my marriage was in shambles, I read a book that very plainly laid out, in question form, whether your marriage had the necessary ingredients to re-establish a good union.  One of the points that struck me — hard, in the gut — was the question of could you do nothing with this person and still feel that you passed the time pleasantly?  Without the benefit of a fun schedule of activities, the company of friends, or expensive toys or vacations.  Could you, quite simply, just be with that person and still feel fulfilled?  When I read that section of the book, I felt my heart sink.  My husband and I had long ago reached the point where, without some pleasant distraction, the air between us was heavy and sad and tense.   It seemed like it had been ages since we had been able to just be together — just us — and enjoy each other.  I didn’t know where we had gone wrong or how we had gotten off track, but when I looked over my shoulder, I saw that the road behind us was thick with overgrown problems and resentments.  There was no going back.

But from that sad moment, I extracted a valuable lesson:  to cultivate and nurture the simple times.  When a couple is first together, everything is fun because you’re still learning about each other, hearing stories, exploring your relationship.  But later, after the first few months or years, it is all too easy to begin to disengage.  To begin dividing chores and duties, spending less time together and more apart, developing common interests and experiences with people other than your partner.  Until one day, you have traveled so far away from each other down divergent paths, and the road behind you is too thick to find your way back to each other.

One of the gifts of divorce, if we choose to embrace it, is the chance to be more mindful in our choices and our patterns; to make different mistakes than we made the first time; to recognize how patterns established early on will influence and direct the course of the relationship in the long-term.  We can do things differently, and hopefully find a different result.

I’m not talking about being hyper-vigilant or over-analyzing everything and suffocating the natural evolution of a relationship.  What I’m getting at is recognizing and acknowledging the good stuff you share and protecting it because you value it, making course corrections as necessary to preserve it, and not allowing the noise and stresses of life to distract you while the relationship goes off the rails to crash and burn in a fiery divorce.  I get that this isn’t easy, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy every day, all the time.  I know that when my ex-husband and I married, we understood that there would be “hard times,” but we imagined them to be akin to the struggles we faced with my daughter’s health, and the financial scares of my husband’s lay-offs.  We congratulated ourselves on weathering those times quite well and solidly as a couple.  But we didn’t fully understand that perhaps the hardest part of a relationship is just keeping it healthy.  Healthy bodies can sometimes withstand even a severe, acute illness, but unhealthy bodies can be laid low by simple viruses.  Our divorce was definitely precipitated by lots of small viruses, rather than one, massive heart attack.  I believe the same is true of relationships —  and it is far harder to restore them to health once they are unhealthy than it is to maintain their health in the first place.

So, I am busy noticing the easy things and the simple times and remembering that it’s important to nurture the aspects of a relationship that you love and value; to not take them for granted as somehow being inherent in relationship, unchangeable and constant.  Because even those wonderful elements that come so easily in the beginning can fall away over the years like sand through our fingers unless we are conscious and present in our attempts to keep them full of life and energy.

I know that some days will surely suck — we’ll argue, we’ll be sad, or we just plain won’t like each other that much.  But the only thing I can do to protect us from those days’ damage is to celebrate and reinforce all the awesomeness we’re creating now.  Even when that awesomeness happens in the aisles of a Super Target.

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Filed under dating, divorce, love, personal growth, pete, relationships, single mom

heart of stones

Earlier this year, a young mother drove her small Subaru from the larger city down below, through the canyon and up the mountain to the little town where I work.  She parked her car in a dirt lot and climbed out into a night that was cold and dark.  The spring thaw had come astoundingly early, sending the snow from the mountainsides melting into the creeks and lakes, swelling them to unusually high levels, but the nights were still freezing.  The mother sat at edge of the creek for some time.  Then she filled her pockets with the heavy river rocks that line the creek bed and banks, and waded into the icy water.  Fed by the melting glaciers of the Continental Divide and rushing toward the reservoir 100 yards downstream, the creek water was cold enough to induce hypothermia in a submerged body within a minute.  The rocks did their job, and the young woman was dragged down, but not before she’d had a change of heart.  Clawing desperately at the steep embankment, she struggled to pull herself from the rushing water.  But ultimately she succumbed.  And in the early light of dawn, her body was discovered nearby, facedown in the water, by hikers who alerted town officials.

When the police chief informed my office later that morning, we all stood and stared at each other.  We are a very small group, working in a very small town, and no tragedy passes unnoticed.  This was particularly painful to absorb:  a young mother in her twenties, going through a divorce, leaving two small children behind in her death, so desperately sad that she chose a terrifying and permanent solution to her pain.

Perhaps the next day, perhaps the day after, a young man appeared at the site along the creek where the mother’s body had been recovered.  He sat on the shore, in the bitter cold, and cried.  Then he came back the next day, and the next, and the next after that.  Until we all in town came to expect his daily vigil.  Sometimes he was alone, other times he was with his parents or just his father.  Occasionally a friend accompanied him. His grief was public and overwhelming.  Residents reported that he often seemed to sit there all day long, crying.  The police were dispatched to help.  They determined that the young man was her estranged husband, father to her children, grieving a loss he could neither understand nor accept.

As the days passed, the young man continued his vigil, but also brought with him his wading boots.  Despite the chill, he waded into the creek and created a large heart — approximately 5′ tall x 4′ wide — in the creekbed where his wife’s body had last rested, using the same kind of stones that had sealed her fate.  He stacked the stones five or six high in order that they be seen above the top of the water.   The task and its completion seemed to offer him some solace, and his grief resolved itself into a quiet sadness.  But still he came.

In the weeks that followed, a small makeshift memorial grew on the edge of the creek, with a cross, laminated letters, photos, and personal touches.  Some locals added to it, others merely stopped by to offer a prayer or meditation in front of the heart of stones memorial.  A few residents complained to me that the memorial was “in poor taste” or “unseemly” or that it “made people uncomfortable.”  I listened to their complaints, then told the police chief and town manager that I did not plan to remove the memorial.  Death makes people uncomfortable, for sure, but I’m not sure how making that discomfort go away is my responsibility.

So, on my order, the memorial stands.  I have proposed a memorial policy that will allow the family to install a commemorative bench on the site.  I visited it today, for the first time, to document in photographs its existence for town records.  We are now in the waning days of summer in the mountains, with sunny, warm days surrendering to chilly nights.  The creek is at nearly its lowest ebb, and the heart of stones stands in strong relief to the shallow waters around it.

While I was standing there, a young man turned the corner from the parking lot and approached me, smiling tentatively.  I could tell by his attire that he had come a long ways to reach this spot.  I stepped aside and he walked to the edge of the creek, where he squatted.  His lips moved silently, as if in prayer, as he gazed at the heart of stones.  I turned away, offering him some privacy.  Then he stood, and I turned around.  He smiled at me, and his somber eyes said thank you.  He walked away and I was left alone again.

I did not know this woman, nor did I know anyone who knew her.  I don’t think I ever saw her husband or his family or their friends.  But her death affected me this spring.  It reminded me how much each life — and sometimes its end — touches so many people.  How can we possibly fully appreciate the ripple effect of our choices?  How do those choices permanently alter the direction of someone else’s life?  It’s impossible to know, isn’t it?

Everytime this spring that someone came into town hall to tell me that the man and his family were still there, I wondered about him.  Why did he keep coming?  Had he still loved her so much?  Was his grief based on regret… remorse… guilt?  What story had they shared?  What will he tell his two small daughters?

And what of that young mother, who made a choice she could not repeal — From wherever she was, could she see the pain her death had caused?  Was her soul at peace or was it anguished?  Had she had any idea how many people loved her — those ones who traveled so far to create a personal monument on a creekbed in a strange town?  What does she think of the beautifully poetic memorial crafted in her honor on the site of her last breath?  And what will become of her memory when, next year at the thaw, the force of the creek scatters her stone heart?

The answers to those questions don’t really matter, but they are the things I pondered occasionally as the winter gave way to spring and then spring to summer here in the Rocky Mountains.   I hope that her family finds peace soon, and that her soul does likewise.  I will not likely forget her anytime soon, this young woman I never met.  I wish so much that she had made different choices that cold March night, but I understand the world is unfolding around me just as it should, and that my lack of understanding does not make that any less true.

And I hope that someday, when I die in my comfy bed of natural causes as a very elderly woman, someone who loves me builds me a heart of stones in a beautiful creek somewhere.

Don’t you?

The Heart of Stones Memorial

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, marriage, relationships, sadness

the abyss that is depression

I began this post multiple times over the last couple of months.  The most progress I made on it prior to this weekend was a late night writing session following three vodka tonics, which sufficiently braced me to put letters to screen about a subject I find particularly painful and shameful.  I know this post is lengthy, but I believe this issue is deserving of the time and space, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Much of this year has found me facing a daily struggle within myself.  I was unable to write.  Unable to play my guitar.  Unable to enjoy many of the things that I used to enjoy.

Because I was severely depressed.

Those of you who have experienced depression are already nodding along sympathetically.  You know the heaviness of it, the hopelessness of it, the monotony of it.  You know how it robs you of any optimism or happiness.  You know how it makes you irritable, critical, and jealous of the good fortune of others.  You know the tears that appear out of nowhere and the endless sense of grinding through day after day.

Those of you who have not been intimately acquainted with this particular demon are likely wondering why I couldn’t just snap out of it — go do something fun!  Go dancing or to yoga or on a date!  Watch a bunch of funny movies, take a bubble bath, bake some banana bread!

But that’s the problem, and that’s why I decided to finally write this.  In the hope that someone would find an understanding they hadn’t had before… and that someone who might be suffering would realize they are not alone in their silent pain.

Let’s be very clear:  Depression is not sadness.  Oh no.  I wish that it were.  Sadness is painful and acute and sharp.  It is felt and experienced and then overcome.  It can be addressed with fun times and laughter with friends.  It can be overcome with sunshine and delicious food and lots of hugs.   Sadness is usually the result of something happening: a break-up, a death, a terrible day at work.  It can be cognitively processed and massaged away with good feelings and good times.  Sometimes it lasts moments, other times weeks, occasionally even months.  But it has a quality that tells you that it’s temporary.  And, more than anything, sadness makes sense.

Depression is not sadness.  It is dull and slow and heavy.  It feels like it will never go away; indeed, hopelessness is one of the keystones of depression.  Being depressed, even if you’re “functional” as I have always been, is like slogging through quicksand.  All day, every day.  Merely going about the most basic functions of a day until it’s time to sleep like the dead for as many hours as possible leaves a depressed person physically and emotionally exhausted.  The body feels achy and stiff and sore; the brain fuzzy and distracted; the soul empty and dead.

Depression is like an emotional cancer — it eats the very parts of you that could best defeat it.  There is no energy to do the things that might help you feel better.  And like an anorexic who looks in the mirror and truly sees a fat person, clinically depressed people are fundamentally unable to envision a better time, a time when the depression has lifted.  The underlying, cold fear is that life will always be this way, that you will succumb to the depression and dissipate over time, until you are a lonely, isolated shell of your former self.

I am well-acquainted with depression.  I first experienced depression as a teenager.  Like many young women, the onset of puberty ushered in an unsteady emotional time, and my life circumstances during my teens and early 20’s worsened the depressive episodes.  But they were still relatively short-lived.  The birth of my second daughter was followed by a vicious case of postpartum depression that necessitated, for the first time, the use of medication in order to defeat my demons.  But worst of all was an episode  toward the end of my marriage that was so long and dark that my doctor actually evaluated me for hospitalization.

Yes, depression is  a familiar enemy.  I can see it coming… creeping up on me like a figure emerging from the shadows.  Over the years, I have come to recognize the cocktail that is most dangerous for me:   one difficult, sad event (a break-up, a death, some enormous, temporary stressor) that I could otherwise manage as well as anyone else, coupled with an underlying emotional struggle of some magnitude that is already sapping my energy (ongoing difficulties at work, trouble in a relationship, health issues, etc).  The one-two punch, so to speak, knocks me far enough off-balance that the nasty ephemeral figure of depression is able to get a firm grasp on me.  With my depleted emotional reserves, I cannot fight him off, and I succumb.  And I can literally feel vertigo as I tumble into the black hole of the depression.

I have been more fortunate than many people, however, in that my depression has never been debilitating.  I have never not been able to get out of bed, or go to work, or care for my children.  I have never lost friends, or boyfriends, or jobs because of my depression.  I have always managed to function well enough to conceal — oftentimes from even my closest friends — the depths of my despair.

And I have also been fortunate to have had the kinds of friends and family who have propped me up and encouraged me and held me when I cried senselessly.  I suspect that those who lose their battle with depression to suicide feel so isolated by the disease infecting their soul that their friends and family cannot break through to reach them.  I have never gone that far into the dark, and I pray that I never will.

Due to its classification as a mental illness, depression still carries some stigma, and I will admit that I am even guilty of stigmatizing myself.  When I get depressed, I am ashamed of myself.  Ashamed that I didn’t see the monster coming, didn’t fight off his grasping, icy hands as they dragged me down.  Terrified that my friends and family will cease to regard me as a strong, accomplished woman.

But I also wholeheartedly believe that depression IS a mental illness, although perhaps a temporary one for most people.  It is irrational and sometimes disabling.  It alters your sense of what’s real and true and possible, and, if left untreated over time, it can destroy the best and brightest parts of even the most amazing person.

My exit from a depressive episode is typically prompted by some triggering event that serves as an emotional course adjustment.  Such an event, along with the help of therapy, medication, friends, and some proactive personal choices, enabled me to emerge from the black pit I was in for so much of this year.  But each visit to that place takes its toll.  I am tired and a little unsteady and still recovering, as you might be if recovering from a lengthy and debilitating physical illness.  But I am also peaceful and secure and genuinely feeling hopeful and empowered again.

Many mental illnesses have an upside (yes, you read that correctly).  Some of history’s greatest minds and artists likely suffered from bi-polar disorder and, during their manic phases, created some of the most original work and art known to man.  Similarly, I have discovered the silver lining of my depressive episodes:  I emerge from them with increased clarity.  It is like someone has wiped clean my third eye, allowing me to see perfectly clearly the people and situations before me so that I can chart a considered and thoughtful path based on rational reasoning and authentic intuition.  I am not sure that I can say that the benefit of this clarity is worth the suffering of depression, nor do I have any idea if others experience this after a depressive episode.  But I do, and I am grateful for it.

I fully recognize that I am not forced to write any of this.  I get to choose what of my life remains private and which persona I chose to share or create for my blog readers. And certainly, for those who do not know me personally, it could be fun to be the blogger with the answers — the easy, breezy, confident woman who saunters through life and work and relationships with nary a misstep or hesitation.  But that is not me.  And I don’t actually have any desire to be that woman because I suspect that that woman would neither relate to nor provide any real value to the wonderful souls who read the words I share.   Easy and perfect are not useful or instructive; it is only through our shared struggles and accomplishments that we experience our true humanity.

And so, if I have shared too much here… if I have alienated or disappointed some of you with this revelation, I am sorry that you have experienced this post in that manner, but I am not sorry for having shared.  Because I sincerely suspect that for every person who doesn’t understand, there is another who does and finds solace in being understood and acknowledged here.  And to those souls I say this:

If you are depressed right now, you are not alone.  Your current situation will not always be so.  Life will change, eventually and with certainty.  Hopelessness is a symptom of the disease, not a part of who you are.  Just do your best each day, in whatever small way feels like a victory, and be gentle with your struggling soul.  Seek help — tell friends, call your doctor, call a therapist.  Don’t allow the isolation to swallow you whole.  Don’t allow the depression to rob you of your life.  You are beautiful and you are loved and you have a future in front of you that you cannot imagine right now.

Please try your best to remember that the sun will come out again.  I promise it will.  It always does, if only we hang on long enough.

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Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

“every day is a celebration”

One morning last week, as I was thumbing through my paper and munching my English muffin, I came across an article that stuck with me.  Various parts of it have been playing through my mind ever since.  It is about a local couple who are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.  Yes, you read that right — 70 years of marriage to the same person.  That alone is mind-boggling in this day and age, but it is other aspects of the article that I find more poignant….  and perhaps those other aspects are the explanation to the time-honored question of “What’s their secret?!”

Before I go any further, I’d suggest you read the article, here.   It’s short and it will open in another tab, so you won’t lose me!  I’ll wait.

[Cue the on-hold Muzak version of The Captain and Tenille’s “Muskrat Love”…]

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s continue…

The first time I read the article, something tugged at me, but I turned the page and put it down to sentimentalism, plain and simple.  But it was more than that, and when I returned to the article later that night, I saw clearly and with amazement the pieces that are profound and precious to me in this article.

1.  Don carries a scrapbook in his briefcase of memories of their life together.

Sure, this is a little cutesy for most people, and most guys wouldn’t be comfortable putting together a scrapbook, let alone carrying it around for years.  But the point here is that it embodies his priorities.  Just from that one fact, do you have any doubts of where his personal priorities lie?  Do you suppose his children ever wondered if their parents loved each other?

2.  Don remembers particulars about Dorothy.

Most of us sketch our distant memories in broad strokes.  It is only the truly important moments that we lock away with all of our senses intact.  I, for instance, remember exactly how Sabrina felt and smelled when they first placed her in my arms — the weight of her, the color of her hair, the pain my body was still accommodating to from my emergency c-section, the tears in my husband’s eyes, the stuffiness of the room — all of it frozen in my memory.  But Don, it seems, has many, many memories of Dorthy that are like that.  I love that he remembered “how the humidity melted her hair” when she stepped off the plane.   I am lost in imagining him watching her, absorbing her, after missing her for a while.  Sigh.

3.  Don is proud of Dorothy’s accomplishments.

Before any of you start shaking your head and saying, “Well, of course he should be!” let me point out two very important things:  FIRST, let’s remember that they were married in 1942.  They are almost two generations removed from most of us.  Feminism was not even a word then, and women’s rights still referred to the suffragette’s successful battle to obtain the vote.  This was an era and a generation when most women did precisely and only what their husbands allowed them to do.   No kidding.  And look what Don allowed Dorothy to do — to live up to her potential as a human being.  She did amazing things, in an age when only men did such things.  And she did it with a husband.  Seriously wow.

SECOND, let’s to be truthful here:  this is still rare.  I hear story after story after sad story about women who bind their lives to men who are threatened by their potential or desire to be more than a wife and mother.  Being a good wife and a good mother are both laudable goals, to be sure, but for most of us, they are not the end of our aspirations.  When I was married, had I suggested that I was going to attend a civil rights march, my husband would have looked at me like I was crazy.  It was all fine and well for me to pursue my personal interests and causes, as long as it didn’t inconvenience him too much.  And I’m not alone in having lived that at the turn of the 20th Century.

So kudos to Don, for selecting an amazing woman and then supporting her dreams.  Nicely done.

4.  When Don describes Dorothy’s attributes, he lists aspects of who she is, not what she does for him or anyone else.

This is the part that makes the romantic in me want to cry.  Don says this about Dorothy:

“She’s a caring, kind, empathetic and a super good listener.  She says very little but she’s extremely effective. She charms people and gets groups together and makes things happen.”

This is who Dorothy is as a person; he sees her fully — her abilities and personality as they stand on their own, not simply in reference to him.  There is no mention of how good a cook she is or how she starched his shirts for 70 years or how she played with the kids when they were toddlers.  But this is how we usually reference our  love for our partners — based on what they do for us, not on who they are independent of us.  Listen closely the next time someone describes their husband or wife — “He’s a good provider.”  “She’s a good mom.”  “He mows the lawn every Saturday.” “She makes a great pot roast, and that’s my favorite.”  and so on and so forth.  At first glance, this sounds sweet — don’t we all hope that the people we care for and nurture will notice and appreciate that? — but it’s actually a failure to fully see each other.  Appreciation is important, but if you look at the kinds of things I just listed, you’ll see that those are appreciation for roles we fill in our partnerships and lives, they are jobs we do, and an acknowledgment that we do them well.  Those compliments are not an acknowledgment of who we fundamentally are inside — the special parts of us that we bring to the people whose lives we touch everyday.

Now look again at Don’s list.  See the difference?  Hear the respect and admiration?  He sees her.  Fully.  And admires her.  Not for the roles she fills, but because she is those things, and she brings those things to everything she does and every role she fills because they are who she is.  It is possible that Dorothy was a terrible cook, and maybe Don would have liked a good pot roast once in a while, but how many of us want someone to choose us for our culinary skills?  Or for any particular role, in fact?  In all likelihood, she wasn’t a perfect mother (still looking for that animal…), but if she was “kind, caring, empathetic, and a good listener,” how bad a mom could she have been? Don’s description speaks of who Dorothy is in every role she fills, because it is simply who she is, period.

The difference is subtle, but very, very important, I think.  Because as we move through a lifetime together, roles may change.  Skills may be gained and even lost.  But I think what most of us want is to be loved for who we simply are, when the roles and academic degrees and accumulated professional accomplishments are stripped away.  We want to be loved for our sense of humor, our way with words, the gentleness of our caress.  Filling particular roles well can be rewarding and appreciation is always good, but to be appreciated without being fully seen is hollow at best and soul-crushing at worst.

Now, I will admit that Don is probably a bit of a romantic sentimentalist.  But the man is 90-years-old, so I am going to grant him the right to be gushy and mushy and over-the-top about the accomplishment of notching a 70-year marriage.  But really, how many of us are in a position to criticize his approach or his feelings?

Certainly not I.

So instead, I wish the Stonebrakers a very happy anniversary and many more scrapbook pages to come.

Not the Stonebrakers — but I looooove this photo! 🙂

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Filed under happy endings, love, marriage, men, personal growth, relationships

welcome back, thomas murray… or shall I call you “TJ” now?

Nothing would make me happier than to never mention his name again.

But he leaves me no choice.

Thomas Murray has resurfaced.  A few days ago, I received this comment on the post “thomas murray, epilogue“:

Well, it was June 21st that I met “T.J.” Pennsylvania. He was very friendly and then overly friendly. Something uncomfortable about him so I googled him and found your very valuable information. He said he works for PPL in Allentown. Be careful and keep this info coming to protect our sisters out there.

Then, this morning, this appeared, from a different reader:

I thought you would like to know that he has surfaced in Pennsylvania outside of Allentown. He joined my singles social group (I am the leader) and immediately tried to charm some of the female members. We had a “funny” feeling about him, did some research and found your blog. I kicked [him] out of the group and warned the other groups he is a member of. Thanks for sharing this!

As the title of my epilogue post suggests, I had hoped that would be my last installment in the pathetic tale that is Thomas J. Murray.  But apparently, it is not to be….

It would seem that Tommy has been a very busy boy.  A few months ago, I received several emails from a couple of different women in the Virgin Islands.  The first was a woman who was involved with him and sickened by reading the blogs about his escapades.  I heard from her only once and have no idea if she continued the relationship.  The second woman had a friend who was involved with him and she (the writer) was suspicious and nervous about him, and somewhat frightened for her friend.   Sadly, the blogs that Jenni and I have written confirmed her suspicions, and her friend broke off the relationship, heartbroken.  The women appear to be separate incidences of Tommy mayhem (based on details provided in their emails).  Both asked that I not write about them at that time or in any detail.  So I didn’t.

But I wondered….

And now this.

So Tommy has relocated to Pennsylvania (What?!  No chateau in the French countryside as he promised me???).  I am a huge fan of Pennsylvania, as my family roots are there and I attended college there, but, let’s be honest, isn’t Allentown a little bourgeois for an international financier and renowned playboy?  I can only wonder what his new persona is.  Who is this “TJ” person?  What story is he selling the probably lovely and smart women he is romancing?  How long before he snaps?

He is apparently employed at PPL Corporation in Allentown, PA.  Hmmm… but what about his glamorous job ferrying around multi-millionaires vacationing at his “complex” in the Virgin Islands?  PPL is a respectable and reputable company — how in the world will he fuel his rum habit there?  Something tells me the salt of the earth folks in Allentown won’t be as impressed with his “I run with the bulls at Pamplona” schtick as the silicon bimbos vacationing in the Virgin Islands.

Oh Thomas, I can only hope that you will hit rock bottom soon.  That your wife discovered not only your transgressions but your true nature and booted you out of paradise.  That you will someday realize that you are not the smartest person in the room and women are not on this earth for your use and disposal.  That you will somehow become a good person, doing good deeds, and contributing in a productive manner to society.  And I hope that these things happen before you snap and become the monster of which I fear you are capable.

I have no idea why, after only two short weeks of correspondence, I was lucky enough to have discovered you and cut you out of my life. But I have thanked my angels many, many times, and prayed for the women less fortunate than myself who risked their hearts (and in some cases, their bodies) on loving you.  The only thing I can figure is that you came into my life just enough for me to become invested in the outcome of this story.  Because I am invested now.  I will keep writing, as long as you keep behaving this way.  Call it Catholic guilt. Call it the public servant in me.  Call it my sense of solidarity with other women.  Call it whatever you want.  You’re there and I’m here and I’ll keep writing.

Time to take a hard look in the mirror, my dear Thomas, and get some real help.  Put down the false personas and overblown stories.  Learn to be honest and authentic and real.

Please.

I would like nothing more than to never write another Thomas Murray blog post.

So stop giving me reasons.

“TJ” Murray

P.S. — If you arrived here looking for more information on Thomas, “TJ”, or Tommy Murray, please use the search function on my site and search Thomas Murray.  Good luck to you.

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Filed under dating, internet dating, relationships, thomas murray

please welcome our newest member

Last week I went to a concert with a woman I have known for 5 years and not spent more than 5 minutes alone with.  She emailed me, pretty much out of the blue, and asked if I’d like to go to this concert with her.  Her daughter had told her how much I love music (I’m famous among my daughters’ friends for playing my music loud and often and encouraging sing-a-longs in the car), so she thought of me when she realized she had an extra ticket.

Hmmmm…..

Turns out that was only half the story.

On the evening that we sat on the lawn, dining on Noodles & Co. prior to the show, she confided that she and her husband had just separated two weeks ago.  She had been in full agreement on the separation, but he had now announced that he wanted a divorce, and fast.  She was adjusting and processing all this information and her situation.  A whole new life was in front of her and she had lots of questions.  So, of course, since I was pretty much the first of our acquaintance to go through this (and therefore a veteran, right?), she called me.

I looked at my new friend (whom I’ll call “Gwen”), and was struck by the gulf of experience that lay between us.  She was mildly frightened, tentatively hopeful, and completely unaware of the emotional war zone she was about to wade into.  Gwen is a very intelligent, compassionate woman with two children and an 18-year marriage coming to a close.  She is not patently naive nor foolish, but it is nearly impossibly to appreciate what awaits you in Divorceland before you enter it.

I listened as she explained how it had come about and what their circumstances are now.  I saw her fervent hope that somehow this would be civil and they could still be friends, and I heard her enormous reluctance to do anything whatsoever that might anger her soon-to-be-ex-husband and threaten that future possibility of friendship.  I gently shared some basic framework of the road ahead and reminded her that she cannot control him or his feelings, and to take care of herself.

I didn’t share the ugly details of how disappointing it is to see your former spouse morph into someone you neither know nor respect.  I didn’t tell her how painful it can be to watch your children acclimate to their new normal.  I didn’t dismay her with tales of dating woes. Because she didn’t need to hear all of that.  She’ll find out soon enough.  Perhaps hers will be the divorce that is truly and completely amicable.  Maybe her children won’t struggle and dating won’t take the wind out of her.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Regardless, her future was not to be altered by my words, and I didn’t want it determined by them, either.

She relayed to me how someone close to her had cynically told her how horrible her separation and divorce were going to be and how foolish she was for thinking it could be otherwise.  My heart went out to her and I assured her that her story would be hers and her husband’s alone.  Not mine, not her other friend’s, not anyone else’s mattered.  Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Yes, divorce sucks.  There’s not much good to recommend the whole process.  But this is where she is now and scaring her silly is only going to make her situation worse.  None of us make our best decisions out of fear, so the longer she can avoid that particular zone, the better off she is. The other side — when she finally gets there — will be much better than where she is now.  But, damn, is there a lot of muck between here and there.  It’s kind of like having a baby:  if you really knew the pain of labor without the joy of the newborn, you might not have gotten pregnant that first time.  And the hard fact is that Gwen is already pregnant with her divorce proceedings.  There’s no going back.  Better to just hold her hand and remind her to breathe through it.

As the sun set and the opening act warmed up the audience, we talked about what her life might be like when it was all over.  I made her laugh and kept her focused on the possibilities in front of her.  She told me how much better she was feeling, and I was glad. We talked about the importance of female friendships and the need for community when going through something life-changing like this.

In the week since then, we’ve exchanged a few emails and I have noticed things that take me back to when I was newly separated.  The plot is so much the same, even if the story is unique.

Sometimes I am still surprised to realize that I am divorced — “What?!  When did that happen?!” — but then I look around me and the events of the last 3 1/2 years come rushing up to my consciousness and I remember that at some point, I joined this club.  It’s a strange club.  No one ever wants to join, or imagines that they will be a member someday.  And yet here we are.  Moving forward, glancing back, pushing on.

And reminding each other to breathe.

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, relationships, sadness, single mom