Tag Archives: love

30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 3

On the third day of the 30 Days of Truth Challenge (Is anyone else hearing the tune for “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? No? Just me? Alrighty then…), we are prompted to write about:

Something you need to forgive yourself for.

Just one? Seriously? I think I had a pretty long list by the time I was 9, so this seems like a case of Pick-a-Card,-Any-Card.

It is certainly tempting to go for the low-hanging fruit – the fact that I left my husband and tore my family apart when my children were only 5 and 7. How easy it would be to wax lyrical about my children having to pack their entire lives into little Dora the Explorer wheelie bags and move back and forth every single Friday of their childhood. Yes, that is definitely an easy one with which to self-flagellate.

But I will resist that particular temptation. Other guilt-ridden siren songs playing in my head right now include: not living up to my full career potential after spending almost $200,000 on college and graduate degrees; distancing myself from my mentally ill and abusive mother (“but she’s your mother!”); and all the times I have unleashed my attachment issues all over some poor, unsuspecting friend or lover.

But alas, those will not have their day on the screen this time.   Because, frankly, I feel that they’ve had enough time on this blog as it is. So they can just shut the hell up.

Today, instead, I will seek self-forgiveness for the times I have not fully appreciated the people that I should have. The people who gave me more than they should have, cared more than was wise, and put up with me with more patience than I would have thought possible. And yet I failed to fully see them. To appreciate them. To make sure that they understood that I had not overlooked their kindnesses.

I am ashamed to admit that there are many.

First, there was the suburban street that formed a village around me and gently guided me to adulthood through a childhood that was strewn with familial loss, the kind of loneliness unique to only children, and a simmering anger that sunk downwards toward depression as the years ticked by. The men, women and older kids in my neighborhood cared for me when I was sick, snuck me treats when I wasn’t allowed them at home, gave me free rein to their pools and yards, and kept a dozen vigilant eyes on me when my single, working mother was otherwise distracted. And I have never properly thanked them. How could I? Are there any words?

And what about the kind strangers who befriended me when I lived in England, all on my own, at the age of 21? There were those professionals who offered me internships (known there as “attachments”) that ultimately changed my whole career trajectory and led to a job that provided some of the most precious (and unrepeatable) memories of my youth. These men and women generously used their contacts to place me in enviable positions in amazing proximity to legendary creativity and power. And I took it all in, accepting their graciousness as if it were my due. Then there were the people on the fringes, who stepped in and offered me a place at their Christmas dinner table, introduced me to the magic of Lemsip when I had my first English cold, and carried me home from the pub when I finally realized that I hadn’t been raised to drink pints of anything. Did I say thank you? I honestly don’t recall. I hope so, but I can’t assure you of that with any conviction.

Finally, what about the people who have offered me their friendship, only to be met with ambivalence and indifference? You know these friends; you more than likely have had one or two of your own. They are the people who aren’t exactly in your squad but desperately wish to be. They look up to you, admire all your best qualities and ignore your worst, and either pine to date you or be you. And you hardly notice them. In the vanity and stupidity of youth, you take and take the gift of their friendship, while tossing them an occasional bone of attention or gratitude, which they devour hungrily and you use to appease whatever guilt creeps into your consciousness. Eventually, they tire or give up or grow up and walk away. And you, sadly, hardly notice.

But these friends are true friends. They offered themselves without guile and with complete sincerity, hoping for nothing but friendship in return. What is real friendship but that kind of desire to give of ourselves and make a connection with another person? I have had several of these peripheral friends in the course of my life, and they have passed through without leaving much of a mark, except on my guilty conscience. I know, in the deepest, darkest parts of my heart, that I was a poor excuse for a friend to them, that I returned almost nothing that was given to me, and that I am terribly ashamed of myself.

Nearly all of these people have passed out of my life, some without leaving even a precise memory of their full name. Others have left this world, and I have grieved them more than they could have ever possibly expected. For a few, I have seized the opportunity to express as much gratitude as I can without making them or me completely uncomfortable. Was it enough? Definitely not.

Sometimes I try to absolve myself by recognizing that we all have treated people shabbily in some fashion or another, and that the best we can hope for is the maturity and growth to recognize it, correct it when possible, and dedicate ourselves to doing better next time.

Is that enough? Probably not.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll keep working on that forgiveness thing.

forgive yourself

 

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Filed under 30 Days of Truth Challenge, personal growth

recipe for happier holidays: blend well

During the holiday season, I am typically addicted to the sappy, predictable, sugary holiday fare that runs 24/7 on the Hallmark Channel that time of year.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, I watch one perfect holiday-themed love story after another, sighing at the snow and the romance and the ease with which all the characters cheerfully handle the holiday drudgery that turns most of us into Grinches.

I really need to stop watching those movies.  I really do.

Because we all know that the holidays hardly ever actually resemble a Currier & Ives painting, let alone a Hollywood movie.  And when you factor in six kids and two parents trying to figure out how to successfully blend our family traditions, the results are often stressful and sometimes comical.

Maybe there’s a family out there that can pull off their first blended holiday season without an argument or a mishap, but ours is not that family.  Definitely not.  We love each other.  We want to be together.  But we also want to kill each other once in a while. That’s just the plain truth.

And because I consider it my duty to help inform those who might follow me of the snares and missteps along this post-divorce path I have taken, I feel obligated to share some of my discoveries.  So, purely for your edification, I offer you a list of things that James and I had to negotiate as we celebrated our first holiday season as a blended family:

1. What to stuff the turkey with.  He was used to sliced potatoes and bacon, while I favored the more traditional bread stuffing.

2. When to put up the Christmas decorations.

3.  Whether to get a live Christmas tree or an artificial one.

4.  Whether said Christmas tree should have white lights or colored lights.

5.  How much money to spend on each child for Christmas presents.

6. Who should do most of the Christmas present shopping.

7. Whether the Christmas presents from Santa should be wrapped or unwrapped.

8.  Whether the whole family should attend church on Christmas Eve or only those who choose to.

9.  Whether and how many gifts should be opened on Christmas Eve.

And so on.

Some of these points were more easily agreed upon than others.  Surprisingly, the question of how much money to spend on presents was pretty much a non-starter, but James and I worked out the issue of which lights to put on the tree while standing in the garage screaming at each other.  Go figure.

What this holiday season taught me about blended families is this:  you’ll never know until you try.  Most of the things on the list above we could never have anticipated prior to experiencing them this year.  I mean, sure you realize that blending families and holiday traditions might be difficult, but I think most of us think about those difficulties in terms of the Big Stuff:  how well the children will get along, or whether anyone will feel left out, or if the presents will be just right on Christmas morning.  But, like in a marriage, it’s more often the little things that open up the biggest holes.  And in a post-divorce relationship, preserving some of your previous traditions, particularly for the sake of the children, can feel more important than you’d ever thought.

I found it interesting that I most easily sacrificed the traditions that Bryce and I had made together and clung fast to the ones my girls and I had constructed since my divorce.  Those were important to me — and, I learned, to them — in ways that I hadn’t fully appreciated when we were stumbling along together after the divorce.  But what made them special to me was exactly that — we had created those small traditions together, in the midst of our early pain and uncertainty about the future.  We three had drawn together and made holiday patterns that felt good and right and reflected us.  And those were the ones that I fought over with James.  For him, it was the traditions that he’d carried with him from his childhood that he held most dear.

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily our sense of what the holidays should be dovetailed.  It occurred to me that our common values around family and togetherness likely drove those similarities, and that was gratifying to discover.    And it was amazing and heartwarming to see the kids all acting like siblings during Christmas break.  But I think the best confirmation of how far we have come was delivered by my mom, the day after Christmas, when she said “You all really are a family.  No one who sees you all together could doubt it now.”

And, as for me and James, you could say we came through all the frustrations and negotiations and ended up full circle again.  Quite literally.  Perhaps a bit emotionally bruised from all the high drama of our non-Hollywood holidays, but none the worse for the wear as it turns out.  Because on Christmas morning, he surprised me with a beautiful ring that I have not taken off since.

I make no pretense that any of this is easy, because I can’t honestly say that it is.  Not for us, anyway.  But it has its moments of such pure sweetness and grace that I do not doubt that it is worth it.  Even with our struggles to make a family holiday that is uniquely and completely us, even with the arguments and the silences, I would not trade this holiday season for any one that came before it.  Sincerely.

So I will continue my journey down this path for another — likely eventful — year.  I welcome you to join me in creating my on-going happy ending.

Just don’t expect a Hollywood script.

ring 2

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Filed under blended families, divorce, love, single mom

the fractured family

The last time I wrote, my life was floating in an odd kind of limbo, awaiting resolution of a judge’s decision on whether James’ three young children would be sent back to their mother in Georgia — the object of an abuse and neglect investigation prompted by the kids’ therapist — or whether they would stay here with us, a family complete, a family whole.

On August 12, 2013, we went to court and showed the judge everything we had.  Professionals took the stand to lay out our case, and witnesses (including one from Georgia) substantiated the claims the children had made to their therapist.  But the judge chose to disregard all of that, and instead believed their mother, who swore under oath that the children’s claims were lies fabricated by James and me.  It was her word — and her word alone — against multiple witnesses on our side.  But she pulled it off.  And so the children were sent back to Florida.

It was a stunning, unexpected defeat.  Everyone following the case, including sitting and former judges, were shocked and amazed that Carnie, the children’s mother, had managed to convince a judge to ignore all expert testimony to the contrary.  But that’s how powerful a liar she is.

The judge’s ruling came down late in the evening after a 3 1/2 hour hearing.  I will never forget reading the verdict on my iPhone while out to dinner with James and our Georgia witness, and knowing that when I turned to show it to James, I would be delivering a crushing blow.  The children were already with Carnie, as the court had ordered parenting time for her after court adjourned, and she was to regain custody, effective immediately.  She was not even required to let the children say goodbye to us.

James texted her to ask if we could bring the children some of their things from our house, and she agreed, upon the condition that she wanted to speak to him, alone, with the children.  At first he resisted, but I convinced him to go and hear what she had to say, while I waited nearby, within sight. The meeting was wrenching to watch from the sidelines, as the kids clung to him and Carnie pleaded with James to get back together with her, going so far as to get down on one knee.  He blanched, and I honestly wondered if he was going to lose his dinner all over the pool deck, but he held it together long enough to make clear that such an idea was preposterous and to end the conversation. She didn’t want to allow the children to say goodbye to me, but James insisted. I had but seconds with each of them, time enough for a few whispered words of encouragement and endearment, before she ordered them back to her side. And then we left, hearing their whimpered tears behind us, and leaving pieces of our hearts there on the pool deck.

I don’t remember much from that night after our goodbyes.  I remember calling my girls (who were at their dad’s) to tell them the outcome, and Bryn’s anguished cry when she realized that Chelsea had been ripped away from her.  Sabrina was furious, wondering how a judge could ignore the videotaped interviews of the kids, their earnest pleas to the social workers that they be allowed to live here with us and not be returned to Florida.  My girls wanted answers, and I had none.

The next morning — and many mornings thereafter — I awoke and immediately felt the heaviness of grief press down upon me.   The first few days after the hearing were nearly unbearable.  Our house was so quiet and our pain so palatable, that James and could hardly stand to be there.  We tried to distract ourselves.  We shut the doors to their rooms — left disheveled because no one expected that they wouldn’t be coming back — and tried to block out the memories of the summer.  We got random texts from them as they made their way back to Florida.  Short phrases, pregnant with their ache and loss.  And we felt helpless.

James and I both cried a lot at first.  Small reminders would reduce one of us to tears.  I had to avoid music altogether, as it brought back too many memories of riding in the car with the kids, going here or there, with the music blasting, the windows down, and all of us singing along together.  I framed lots of the art the girls had made for us over the summer, crying each time I placed another piece between glass.

We had set up new email addresses for the two oldest, Chelsea and Jay, for them to communicate with us, and during their first two weeks back in Florida, we heard from them frequently.  They used the email portal just as we’d intended — as a small way to touch back to us, to connect and feel our love without the filters their mom tries to impose.

The allegations and evidence presented at the hearing clearly frightened Carnie.  She quit her bartending job, began spending much more time at home on the weeknights, and started trying to connect with the kids in more positive ways.  The court ordered that she be randomly tested for alcohol, and as far as we know, she is complying with that order, but we have yet to see any test results.  The court also ordered another parental evaluation, to be conducted by a licensed Child-Family Investigator (CFI).  Carnie’s attorneys tried mightily to get the court to approve a CFI in Florida, but our attorneys prevailed and a local CFI was assigned.  The CFI begins her investigation next week, which will include interviewing licensed professionals associated with the case, family, and even the children.  She’ll travel to Florida to see the circumstances there and conduct interviews, and will visit our house and us as well.  It’s an intrusive, long process, designed to overturn every stone in search of any deep and dark secrets hidden beneath.  The judge — thankfully, a different one from our earlier hearing — will likely follow the CFI’s recommendation, so the outcome of the case might ultimately hinge on this one person’s conclusion of how to serve the children’s best interests.

Whether Carnie’s new-found persona as Devoted Mother will hold up over time or even convince the CFI in the short term is anyone’s guess, but for now it is having its desired effect on the children.  They have pulled away from us, for reasons we can only guess at.  Perhaps they feel let down that we couldn’t win the case and allow them live in Colorado.  Perhaps they believe their mom that we somehow manipulated them to say awful things about her.  Perhaps they are tired of all the drama and have resigned themselves to their situation.  It’s impossible to know, and heartbreaking to wonder at.

In the meantime, our home continues to heal.  The first weekend my girls spent here without James’ kids, they cried quite a bit.  Things were solemn and we spent even more time than usual together as a family.   But they are now becoming accustomed again to the relative peace and quiet of the house, as are we.  School has started and life has fallen into its familiar rhythms again, so that sometimes I can almost forget how close we came to being a whole family.

The case will likely not be fully resolved until early Winter, but I am no longer feeling certain in the outcome.  August reminded me that even “slam-dunk” cases can be lost, and those things we count as certain, upended.  So for now, we try to find the good in the moment and pray deeply for the future. And a time when we might not be a fractured family any longer.

Snowy Owl, by Chelsea, age 10, Summer 2013

Snowy Owl, by Chelsea, age 10, Summer 2013

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Filed under blended families, healing, parenthood, relationships, sadness

chasing the finish line

I have been away from writing for so long.

The keys feel foreign beneath my fingertips and the words come achingly slowly.

I do not know how or where to begin, so I follow an old writing instructor’s credo — “If you don’t know where to begin, just start.”

For months now, I have been mulling the idea of The Finish Line in various life stages.  It seems to me that we are almost constantly chasing an invisible end point — that magical point at which we achieve a true and lasting happiness, or at least a huge and permanent warp speed thrust towards such a nirvana.  We tell ourselves that if we can just meet our soulmate, get that promotion, move to that exotic locale, finalize our divorce, or get pregnant, then — THEN! — we will be happy.  And why not?  After all, Hollywood assures us this is the case:  most movies end on an upbeat note that has you departing the theatre, comforted that the characters’ lives continued offscreen in some version of Happily Ever After.

But real life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

I had a foreshadowing of this illusion when I was still young and arrogant enough to faithfully trust that the illusion was real.  I was about to graduate from college, and some friends of mine were experiencing worldwide music success on a scale they’d only dreamed of.  Their songs were racing up the music charts, their faces graced magazine covers, celebrities knew of them and approached them, and their tour dates were selling out spectacularly fast.  After a tour that took them through most of Western Europe, Russia, and the Far East, they returned home to find their girlfriends the object of hate mail and their homes staked out by paparazzi.  A few days later, in the wee hours of the morning, after a night on the town, I found myself standing in my kitchen with the founding member of the band.  I waxed on about how wonderful their success was and how amazing it must be to experience.  He paused a moment, licked his lips slowly, as if considering his words carefully, and said, “Nothing is ever what you think it will be.  And sometimes the pieces you thought would be so great are the biggest disappointment, and the precious moments take you by surprise.”  I was shocked and asked if he somehow regretted their success.  He quickly answered, “God, no.  It is amazing.  But you think, before it happens, that if only it would happen, you’d never be sad or lonely or insecure or bored again.  But you are. You really are.”  I left him that evening feeling that perhaps he’d had a fight with his girlfriend or was overly tired, because, really, how couldn’t you be happy when you’re becoming rich and famous?!

But life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

Some people have hoped for a happy ending to this blog — that somehow, some way, after these months and years of writing and analyzing and crying and persevering, I might finally have my Happily Ever After.  Some wish this because they know me and care about me personally.  Others wish this because they need a beacon for their own journey, some reassurance that such a thing exists.

I wish I could report to you that now that James and I have purchased a home, moved into it, and blended our families, life feels constantly sweet and comforting and certain.  But it doesn’t.  It really doesn’t.

In fact, we are struggling.  Getting back together and making a big commitment did not serve to wrap a pretty little bow around us and leave me blissfully smiling my way through the rest of my life.  I wish it did.  I would love nothing more than to write post after flowery post about how perfect my life is now and how wonderfully loved and cherished I am.

But I can’t.

So, instead, I will remain true to my one commitment I made to myself and my readers — to be real, and honest, and authentic here.  Some readers may be disappointed that I resist the embellishments that would permit me to write a very satisfying fiction, and a few are likely to be smugly satisfied at the lack of a fairytale ending, but none of that changes what is real for me.

I remind myself frequently these days that life is about the journey and not the destination.  I allow myself the luxury of spending some days (or long nights) just being along for the ride, watching it unfold and trying not to cling too hard to expectations or wishes.  I hold my blessings tightly, counting them like a miser with his gold.

And I wonder whether what I am experiencing is wisdom or disappointment.

Only time will tell, I guess.

Because that’s how life usually works, doesn’t it?

picture in our head

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Filed under divorce, happy endings, love, relationships

boobs

One of my favorite bloggers, The Edmonton Tourist, published a post recently about how desperately so many women (she and I included) have struggled at times to be someone’s physical ideal.

Raised in North America and fed a steady diet of fashion magazine models, MTV video stars, and movie queens, I think we women fail to even realize a lot of the time how much we measure ourselves against certain criteria, and typically find ourselves lacking. I think we’re aware of it in a big picture sense; but the insidious little moments when those doubts whisper in the back of our brains are probably far more common than we notice. Sure, I think it gets better with age – most of my female peers are relatively content with their appearance – but certain aspects of our bodies remain or become trigger points of insecurity. We all know the usual culprits: thighs, tummies, butts, and, with age, wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby arms. But really, the list goes on and is super-dependent on our individual bodies and how we perceive them.

The men that we are with – particularly the ones granted the privilege of seeing us naked – are incredibly powerful determiners of our self-image. And it’s taken me a pathetically long time to realize that men have almost no idea how easily an off-hand compliment or put-down can completely alter our sense of what is beautiful about our bodies. It’s almost frightening how much control we cede to them in this regard,and how perpetually clueless they are of this power.

When I was younger, I took every male comment of this kind as an absolute. If a guy said my legs were hot, I assumed all men would think so. It wasn’t just his personal opinion; I extrapolated and assumed that I simply had empirically hot legs. But the same was true with negative comments. It wasn’t just one guy who thought I was “too pale.” No, my fair skin was basically ugly and something all future men would have to look past if they were to be attracted to me.

Then I grew up (or, rather, grew older…), and it finally dawned on me that the same things that one man might not like about me, might be another man’s favorite. Let’s visit my pale skin, for example. My skin is pale, yes. It does not tan. I will never look like a summer goddess in a swimsuit. But, it is also silky soft, even on my arms and legs, as more than one partner has commented on. So, one man’s “ick” factor might be another’s quiet fetish.

But what’s interesting to me is how persistently (and subconsciously!) I held on to certain ideals about female bodies, even armed with this perspective granted by maturity. It seems I am still coming face-to-face with my own pre-conceived notions. For instance, I am relatively tall – 5’7” – and have always seen that as an asset. All my female friends who are short want to be taller, my daughter Bryn, who is short, wants to be taller, my mother always wanted to be taller. But James, being only about 5’9” himself, has always preferred petite women – small and tiny, which I am not. It’s strange to confront the idea that something I’d always banked on as a physical asset might not be so in every relationship. Here was something I’d never even questioned, and yet it, like all other aspects of physical beauty, was in the eye of the beholder apparently. Does my height bother James? No, I don’t think so. But is it his perfect ideal? No, it’s not.

Then there are the flagrant, incorrect assumptions based on gossamer-thin evidence that we make about what our man might prefer. Maybe these assumptions are founded on off-the-cuff comments about actresses, old girlfriends, or even women on the street. A couple of comments about other women’s “great legs” and we may – without even realizing it – assume we’re with a guy who places a high priority on long, shapely legs. And so we file that away and critically examine whether our legs stand up to that ideal.

In the best relationships, of course, these ideals don’t really matter or affect the relationship in any identifiable way, but I would argue that they usually creep in and get in the way without us even noticing.

And this is where boobs come into my story.

One of the first things I noticed about James when we started dating was that he’s a Boob Guy. In my experience, most guys are particularly fond of a certain part of women’s bodies – he might be an Ass Man, a Leg Man, a Boob Guy… you get the idea. Before getting a real glimpse of the woman’s personality, he is likely to notice and appreciate some part of her physicality. Seems like it’s just male nature, and, frankly, I think women are pretty much the same way, except that we don’t talk about it all the time. I, for example, am an unabashed Chest and Arms Girl. Legs? Eh. Six-pack? Whatever. But give me a man with a broad shoulders, great pecs, and strong biceps, and I melt. Sad, but true.

So, anyway, James is a Boob Guy, and unashameably so. It’s like he can’t help it. He’s never rude or creepy about it, but I’m certain that his particular idea of Heaven involves lots of well-endowed girls in bikini tops. And, as best I can tell, he’s always been this way. There is a long line of relatively large-chested (some made by God, others by man) women in his past, and as soon as I realized this, the little worm of insecurity started wiggling in my brain.

Because I am not big-busted. I am a solid B-cup. Aside from the years when I was nursing my babies, I have never been any bigger. There’s nothing wrong with my breasts but there’s nothing amazing about them, either. Were a musician to wax poetic about my attributes, my breasts would likely fall into the Fine-but-Forgettable category. I’ve never particularly thought much about them. They’re there. They’re fine. They functioned as needed for my babies. But I’ve never used them socially or capitalized on them the way women more physically gifted than I seem to.

And then I ended up with a Boob Guy. After many months together, I realized that I was avoiding walking around bra-less or naked on top in James’ presence. When we were in bed, I would pull the sheet to cover myself without thinking. In fact, if I thought about it all, it was only to be grateful that he was so strongly attracted to me despite my breasts being not the best he’d seen.

But I was wrong.

One night, as I lay naked in his arms and we watched television, James commented – so casually that it took my breath away – that I had the most perfect breasts. Sincerely shocked, I looked at him to see if he was being facetious, but he wasn’t. In fact, continuing in the same tone, he very matter-of-factly enumerated what he loved about them. I was so stunned, I don’t think I even responded. Perfect breasts? Me???

The Moral of the Story should be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out for you: Men are more complicated than we give them credit for much of the time. What attracts and holds them is most definitely not as simple as the latest Cosmopolitan would like us to believe. There is truly no empirical ideal of female beauty, THANK GOD for that. Seriously. A man’s ability to appreciate and admire so many different aspects and manifestations of female beauty is a blessing and a wonderful treasure that we should never discount or ignore.

So, whatever part of your body you’re scared of showing off, or whatever piece of yourself you’ve been covering up in front of your guy, STOP. You never know what he’s thinking or how many parts of you make him totally, crazy hot. The fun is in the finding out.

So go find out. Right now. What are you waiting for?

cleavage

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Filed under personal growth, relationships, single mom

was it worth it? (pt. 4)

Following my announcement to my husband Bryce that I was leaving our marriage of nearly 11 years, I had one final conversation with my then-best friend, which ended with her caustically telling me, “Well, I just hope it’s worth it, what you’re doing.  Because I really doubt it will be.”

Certain moments get frozen your mind.  Sealed for the remainder of your life in a corner of your brain where they might gather dust, but they never fade.  Crystallized, every small detail recollected with the same power and force they wielded when first experienced.  That was one such moment for me.

Her yawning question has echoed in my brain and in the hollows of my heart as the months and years since that day have passed.  It has served as a touchstone for me — a chance to check in with myself and the consequences of my fateful choice.  I have revisited the question in my writing, too:

was it worth it? (pt. 1)  (Feb. 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 2)  (May 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 3) (Jan. 2012)

Yesterday, James and I closed on a beautiful house that will become a home to us, our children, and our animals.  Afterwards, we had a romantic celebratory dinner at the restaurant we visited on our first date, in September 2010.  We had not been back since then, and the sense of having completed some imaginary circle was palpable to us.  We reminisced about our first date — where we sat, what I was wearing, what we were each thinking — and throughout dinner I sat across the table from him and tried to figure out how in the world we have landed where we are now.

I have that feeling often these days.  I will look at him and it suddenly hits me that it has happened.  I have actually found what I had been searching for since I first fell in love with Parker at age 22 and discovered what true love, mixed with destiny and fate, actually can be like.  Every single day since then, I have hoped to once again be blessed enough to find it.  There were many, many dark days and darker nights during which I wondered if perhaps I was requesting too much of the universe; I had been fortunate enough to experience true love once, perhaps it was asking too much to want it again?

But I couldn’t give up.  Or, rather, my heart wouldn’t let me.  My brain argued quite rationally and logically.  It urged me to settle for good enough and be happy with that.  It berated me for expecting so much.  It pointed out my arrogance in hoping that I was special enough to be so blessed twice.  But the pounding of my heart drowned out the rational logic of my brain.  Thump, thump, thump… like a mantra it reminded me, forced me to remember what it had once felt like to be loved so completely and purely and deeply, and to return that love equally.

And now here I am.  I feel as if I am sitting upon a beautiful mountain top, surveying a valley below lush with possibilities and promise.  The world feels wide open and full of choices, any one of which might become the next great adventure of my life.  My blessings are so many, I feel almost embarrassed by their abundance.  But then I remember my dark times and how much I have struggled to find this space of emotional security, happiness, and expansiveness.  This time is what I have been searching for, defending to my detractors, and protecting from the naysayers.  It is here and I am in it.  And it is even better, richer, deeper than it was the first time around.

But what of the others so deeply affected by my choice?  My ex-husband Bryce seems happier than I think I have ever known him to be.  His countenance is relaxed, his outlook optimistic, his relationship seemingly solid and fulfilling.  My daughters are thriving in every way and embracing our changing circumstances with greater poise and enthusiasm and trust than I could have possibly expected.  They still don’t like moving back and forth between me and their dad each week, but it is the logistics that bother them now, not the emotional aspects of so many good-byes and hellos.  I watch over them protectively, awaiting signs to indicate that I have permanently scarred them with my choice to divorce their father and dismantle their family.  But such scars have yet to appear.  We talk through feelings with compassion and patience, and I wonder if possibly they are learning that dramatic life changes do not always portend endless grief and struggle.  I wonder if they are learning how resilient they are as individuals and we are as a family….

Life is not done, of course, and oftentimes regrets sneak up on you long after you hope the final verdict has been read.  But I humbly suspect that this will not be such a case.  Bryce, our daughters, and I have turned some corner, crossed some bridge, this year.  The divorce has ceased to be the defining construct in our lives anymore.  It is merely a reality of our existence now — like living in Colorado or having two dogs.  Four years later, it no longer constrains us or informs our feelings about everything.  My once-intact family has stretched and grown beyond the pain and grief that accompanied its breakage.  We have each evolved into more fully-formed individuals, with a greater sense of our own possibilities.   We love and support each other, secure in the knowledge that our separateness has granted us hopes and dreams that were not possible in our togetherness.

I can look at the long road since that conversation with my former best friend more than 4 years ago.  I can see how many times her warning scold seemed frighteningly true.  I am aware of how easily fate could have shifted slightly and she would have been proven correct.

But that is not what happened.  She was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Because it has been worth it.  The good, the bad, the painful, the joyful.  All of it.  Absolutely, positively worth it.

chautauqua trail

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Filed under divorce, love, perfect little miracles, personal growth, relationships

an open letter to my friends

To my Dear Friends, far and near:

I am writing to say thank you.  Thank you for your love and support and concern and worry.  Thank you for your friendship and your shoulders to cry on and your ears to bend.  Thank you for the memories and the knowledge that you are also part of my future.  Thank you for wanting all that is good and happy and easy for me.

I am indeed blessed to have you in my life.

But.

(You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you? I thought so.  You’re smart that way.)

But the thing is, this is my life.  Not yours.  Mine.  I know you know this, but sometimes when we love someone, we tend to forget it.  We get so wrapped up in our hopes and fears for this other person, that we forget that each of us has to walk our own path, and that ultimately we walk it alone, no matter how many loving people offer their help or companionship on the journey.  Inevitably, we must make our own choices; ironically, even if we succumb to the influence of others, the choices are still ours alone and we alone are responsible for their consequences.

I know that all you want for me is to be happy and safe and at peace.  And I want those things for me, too.  But how I get there, and how you might want me to get there… well, those might be different paths.

I know that some of you are concerned about James.  You have held me while I sobbed over him and listened to my heart break.  You have propped me up and dusted off my ego and refused to allow me to fall completely apart over his past actions.  And you are reluctant and frightened to see me travel that well-worn path again.

I understand that you would prefer that I put James behind me and find some nice, quiet, solid guy with whom to make a life that is drama-free and steady.  I comprehend your hesitancy to accept that this time with him might be any different.  I respect your fear that I am fooling myself and will suffer a humiliating and painful crash in the very near future.

I cannot convince you otherwise.

Nor will I try.

What I will say is this:  I have never taken the easy road.  That is not to say that I have not led a life blessed with many wonderful things, but simply that few of them came to me easily.  In fact, when two paths were before me, I have mostly taken the more difficult one.   And — go ahead, admit it — it is one of the things you love most about me, is it not?

You say that you admire my strength.  Well, what strength is there in opting for the safe route, when one’s heart cries out for the riskier one?  What strength is there in admitting defeat when you don’t really feel defeated?

You say that I inspire you.  How inspired would you be were I to acknowledge that I love James with all my heart but was choosing to be “smart” and settle for someone I feel less for?  Can you even imagine me doing such a thing?

You say that my life is interesting.  What is interesting about it?  The times that I played it safe and made the choices that others wanted for me?  Or the times that I politely told everyone to take a flying leap and struck out in a direction on my own?

I don’t mean to belabor the point (or is it already too late?), but would you really want me any other way?  Is not my choice to throw all my chips on the table with James not the epitome of everything that you value and love about me?

I know you’re scared.  I am, too.  But I’m still me.  I’m still determined to have that Happily Ever After that I’ve believed in my whole life.  And I want you there with me, amazed at the wonder of it all as it unfolds.  I want to share the beauty of this with you and the authenticity of how damn hard it is some days.  I want to know that I’ve been real and true to myself, and that you have shared that.

I cannot make you comfortable with my choices; no amount of reassurances would assuage your fears or discomfort.  But I can ask you to remember what you love and admire and value most about me.  Because I am exactly and entirely that person these days.  I am true to exactly who I said I would be when I left my marriage 4 years ago and you cheered me on for my bravery to take that monumental risk.

The risks don’t stop.  And I won’t start shying away from them now.  No one is more acutely aware than me of how dreadfully painful it will be if James and I fall apart this time, but I can only tell you that I don’t see it happening.  Beyond that, I can offer no guarantees.  Neither can James. And neither can you.  None of us has any way of knowing if we shall ultimately emerge a cautionary tale or one of those cute, old couples that no one can imagine not being together. I have my inkling, and you have yours, but none is more valid than the other.

So, I will continue to endure your qualified support for my happiness, your obvious expectation that our relationship will fall apart at any moment, your unwillingness to invest in us as a couple.  I will do this because I truly love you, and I am truly grateful for your friendship and support, however limited it has become due to my decision to be with James.

I only hope that someday you will fully join me and James (and other members of my family and friends) in this new chapter of my life.  I will be waiting and hoping.  But in the meantime, I will continue to live my life according to my own instincts and sense of what is right and true for me in this moment.

And really, would you honestly expect or want anything different from me?

road less traveled

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, relationships

at the speed of life

If you were friends with me in real life, your head would likely be spinning right now.  You see, my life has essentially two speeds:  Stop and Go.  There really isn’t a whole lot in between.  Occasionally, I’ll do that thing that most people do in their lives in which they work steadily and diligently toward a goal with all due time and effort and decisiveness, but most times that’s not the case.  More often, it’s a matter of my life appearing to careen from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds, and then coming to a screeching halt again seconds after that.  This can be disarming and alarming to friends not used to my life, and cause them considerable concern over my general welfare and decision-making.

But my old friends are used to it.  It’s incredibly rare for any of them to be particularly ruffled or surprised by any news I share.  They’ve become accustomed to the sometimes frenetic pace with which the universe lobs new opportunities and curve balls my way.  My friend Caitlin, who has known me since our freshman year of college, pretty much takes any news from me in stride.  Almost 23 years ago, I called her on a crackly trans-Atlantic connection to say, “So, I got to England, moved to a ghetto, fell in love with my third-cousin-once-removed who moved to Australia three days later, then I sailed through my coursework, and now I’m working in the music business and decided to stay an extra 3 months.” To which she calmly replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “Of course.  When will you be coming home or are you staying for good?”  Because, honestly, you can’t stay friends with me for very  long without accepting that my life seems to operate in some kind of alternative universe in which the typical rules of time and what qualifies as a Good Idea do not apply.

This probably sounds like great fun when the speed of my life is “Go.”  But when it’s at “Stop,” it’s a whole other story.  My life gets stuck more often and for longer periods it seems than most people’s, and that reality has caused me countless sleepless nights and frustrated days.  And again, Caitlin (and my other old friends) has weathered those storms, too.  “Why?!” I have moaned to her, “Why can’t my life just be like other people’s?  I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m still stuck!  It’s so unfair!  Other people can just do these things and they move forward with their lives; I do them and nothing happens!”  Caitlin’s typical response to these pity parties is to murmur sympathetically while I whine and then firmly  say, “Oh, stop being ridiculous.  Your life doesn’t work that way, and who wants to be ordinary anyway? Just wait.  Things will change.  They always do.”  And she’s always right. Of course.

In the first week of December 2012, my life shifted from Stop to Go, and it’s been a fast and furious ride since then.  Some of my friends who haven’t known me very long are pretty white-knuckled, but my longer-term friends are shaking their heads with bemused smiles on their faces.  Because, after all, I am me and this is my life.  In the last three months, I have:

  • created a stable, loving relationship with a man I was mostly apart from the entire year of 2012 and with whom I had all but given up on the hopes of a committed relationship;
  • weathered a personal crisis of his that rivals a good crime suspense novel;
  • moved him into my very small house with me and my girls;
  • found and placed under contract a beautiful home (in a neighboring town in which I have never lived) that is ideal for our family of 2 adults, 6 children, and 3 dogs;
  • been fired from my job 4 hours after placing said house under contract;
  • salvaged the house contract, against all odds, and preserved the March 25th closing date;
  • launched an aggressive job search, including multiple informational interviews per week and dogged networking in between;
  • met with a book editor interested in getting me a publishing contract to further discuss details of the proposed book (and made a fun new friend in the process);
  • begun to prepare for move-in to our new home during the first week of April; and
  • weathered the inevitable ups and downs of merging our families, particularly the boatload of attitude that Bryn has chosen to heap upon James following his move into our house.

As I was updating my friend Rob yesterday, his response was, “I’m tired after hearing all that.  Must go nap.  But first, is your name still TPG or has that changed, too?”  (Almost all my friends are fluent in Sarcasm, by the way.)  But the truth is, and Rob has known me long enough to know this, that when I am in Go speed, it doesn’t feel too fast for me.  This is my normal.  This is how my life works. I make decisions and I follow my intuition and I ride the rollercoaster. And honestly, it’s not because I’m so good at it; it’s because I don’t really have another choice, any more than when things are stuck.  Sure, I could throw on the brakes and refuse to engage the opportunities, but I’ve learned that doing so won’t slow the pace of my life.  Those opportunities won’t slow down to the speed limit; oh no, they’ll just whiz right past me.  And I’ve never regretted grabbing those opportunities and sailing along with them; it may sound surprising, but those aren’t any of the regrets I count when I’m feeling down.  I think the truth for me (and maybe all of us?) is that I don’t get to determine the temporal speed of my life when it’s going fast anymore than I do when it’s going slowly.  My only option — in both situations — is to make the most of what’s on offer.  So I try to.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed, of course.  Just as I sometimes whine to my friends about my frustration when I am stuck in Stop, so do I sometimes complain about the stress of racing along at breakneck speed.  I mean, honestly, I am juggling so much right now that I’m not even sure how I’m managing it, but I suspect that, when hindsight appears after things have slowed to a Stop again, I will see clearly how the universe leveraged my resources and the opportunities against each other to keep me afloat.  For instance, I’m not sure I could manage all the new house and merging family issues if I were still working at my former job.  The stress level there was so high, it might have been my undoing.  So, losing that job might have been a necessary element in greasing the high-horsepower engine that is currently propelling me forward.

So, for right now, I am flying by the seat of my pants and yet feeling mostly calm about the frantic pace around me.  I can see clearly the abstract forms around me coming together to create a remarkable new life.  With awe, I am witnessing the universe as it works its magic to bring multiple dreams of mine to fruition at once.  Life is miraculous and, unlike us, the universe and the powers around us do not make any mistakes.  So, I am trusting that when my house stops spinning and I am deposited into my very own Oz, it will be exactly and precisely where I am meant to be.

tornado-rainbow

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Filed under happy endings, relationships

my pinch me life

At the moment, I sit in my favorite leopard print chair in my bedroom, feet perched on the brown leather ottoman, cup of tea on the bench to my right.  Around me is my bedroom, with all its familiar photos, lamps, and furniture.  And yet what I notice is the unfamiliar — the family photos that are not mine, the television sitting on the second dresser, the baseball cap hanging casually from the doorknob.

In the bed to my left sleeps a man I love possibly more than I have ever loved anyone.  He breathes softly and regularly, sleeping the sleep of the supremely tired.  In a few moments, I will crawl into the bed next to him, he will drowsily pull me close to him, and I will fall asleep feeling safe and adored.

James and I have moved in together.

The circumstances of our decision to take this bold move were, in some important ways, not ideal.  A personal and professional crisis hit his life like a tornado, coinciding with a planned move from the gorgeous family home he had built as a his dreamhouse.  Major life changes were afoot and, as we talked through his options, the logical one — for practical and emotional reasons — was for him to stay with me and my daughters for a while.  At first, that idea took the form of him keeping a few clothes and things at my house, while using his parents’ ranch in the foothills as his main homebase.  But the more we talked about it and got comfortable with the idea, the more it evolved into a decision to actually merge our lives.

And so, one Sunday, a mere 6 weeks after deciding to give it another try, we took the biggest step of our relationship.

The moving part was arduous but also fun and exciting in some ways, as we watched our individual things blend together far more harmoniously than we’d expected.   Boxes were unpacked, artwork was hung, clothes were shifted, and space was made.  We admired our progress and smiled at each other — a lot.  There were also moments of deep sadness, as James was giving up a home that he’d truly thought would be where he’d raise a family and have grandchildren playing someday.  But I think, for me, those early days were mostly like a surreal dream.  How in the world had this really come to be?  How had we, who had for so long viewed each other over the top of a thick, high wall of emotional defense, suddenly found ourselves sharing space with the intention of becoming a family at last?

The first week, James and I were on our own, as my girls were off at their dad’s and his children live out-of-state with their mother most of the time.  This was a good thing, as it gave us a chance to deal with the basic logistics how we’d combine our material possessions and schedules, but also because it allowed us to shake off the initial jitters of our decision.  At one point, at the end of our first day as a co-habitating couple, after considerable prodding from him, I admitted that I was freaking out just a little bit.  Since then, we have spent much time talking about how scary this is for both of us, working through the same kinds of feelings that would have held us back previously and instead finding ways to leverage those feelings to a deeper connection.

My life these days seems to be a series of unbelievable moments.  This weekend, we went house-hunting for a house that could accommodate the two of us, our five school-age children and one college-aged child, and three dogs.  Over the last 2 1/2 years of knowing each other, I have spent many, many days house-hunting with him, but never with my own family in mind.  And yet, there we were, side-by-side, contemplating taking that wall down or creating two bedrooms out of that space, expanding that kitchen or re-landscaping that lot.

I awake every morning to his smiling face, and return every evening to the delicious smells of his cooking in my kitchen.  He is constant and steady and solid.  And I, who spent so many months wishing for a relationship with this man that was even half this good, am amazed every moment.

The obstacles in front of us are huge.  How to blend our families, rebuild his company, strengthen our crippled finances, and stave off our fears of loss and abandonment.  There are moments in which those obstacles seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but then I remember that the only way we can be together is to move through it, and my resolve returns.

When most of us dream about a relationship after divorce, we think only of the beauty of a new love, but the reality is far more complicated.  And I cannot imagine taking this journey with someone with whom I was not crazy in love.  When I think of the men that I have dated who were perfectly nice and yet completely not right for me, I realize how impossible it would have been to face the challenges inherent in a post-divorce relationship with any of those men.  Because this journey can either be a struggle or an adventure, and I think the definition depends, in large part, on your travel companion.

I am not naive about us at this point.  James has revealed too much truth for me to be so.  I have a pretty good understanding of what happened in our first 2 1/2 years together, and I know that I have no guarantees that the man sleeping so beautifully near me tonight will always be there.  But none of us gets any guarantees of lasting happiness; my divorce taught me that.  And so, each day, we simply affirm our commitment to each other and this road we are on.  Because, in the end, that is all we can do.

That, and love each other.  Truly and deeply.

photo

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Filed under happy endings, love, relationships, single mom

an unconventional love story

Today, I want to share a love story with you.  It is not a typical love story, but it is my current favorite.  This story doesn’t read like a standard romantic comedy from a major Hollywood studio; at best it’s an arthouse film with flawed protagonists and a convoluted plot.  But it has a certain charm for me.

It concerns a couple who met many, many years ago — almost 15 years ago, actually — and knew each other only in passing for most of those years. The day of their first meeting was a sunny, warm spring day when they were both young and in love with other people.  She remembers that he was handsome and soft-spoken, but perhaps arrogant.  He remembers that she was smart and intriguing.  Every few years, their paths would cross for some brief moment, and they gradually formed ideas about each other.   They came to know each other in the way that you might know someone to whom you spoke casually and infrequently over the course of many years.  During that time, they each got married and had children and then later divorced.

He divorced first — a long, bitter, nasty battle that left him emotionally scarred and terrified of intimate connection.  He dated, but didn’t allow anyone to get close to him, lest his heart be ripped from his chest yet again.  Two years later, she divorced, too.  Hers was more amicable, but her self-confidence had suffered badly during her marriage and a post-divorce relationship with a terrible charmer had left her bruised and burned.

The summer after her divorce was final, she contacted him on a business matter.  When the office manager discovered that she was divorced, she quietly played matchmaker, setting up a rare Saturday appointment for the two (so there would be no time constraints on him to attend to other appointments) and explaining to each that it was the only time the other could make it.  Both grumbled, but agreed.  At that first appointment, they talked for a long time, first about business, then about life.  A second business appointment quickly dissolved into a lengthy discussion of marriage, divorce, and love.  The third appointment, several months later at the conclusion of their business together, ended with a dinner date.

Both were dating other people at the time, but there was something between them that outpaced the others.  For several months, they dated and got to know each other more deeply.  They spent many hours in intimate conversation, gradually opening up to each other, but still guarded.  Then, a misunderstanding triggered their mutual fears, spiraled out of control, and they broke up.

A couple of months went by and she found herself surprised by how much she missed him.  She went on dates, but nothing compared to how she felt with him.  So, when he called and asked her to go out for drinks, she said yes.  And they began dating again.

But, despite all their wonderful long talks, they struggled to communicate effectively about issues between them.  They were, in many superficial ways, opposites, and some of those differences caused chronic and painful misunderstandings that quickly devolved into defensiveness and the silent treatment from him, and panic and mistrust from her.  So, over the next year, they dated and broke up three more times.  In between, they always dated other people, but neither of them discovered anything that rivaled what they experienced with each other.  They kept coming back, but always the same dynamic quickly re-established itself between them — one borne of mistrust, insecurity and fear.

The last break-up, after 15 months of dating off and on, left them both exhausted and miserable.  They had each tried so hard, in their own ways, but it hadn’t been enough.  It was over.

Over the next year, they connected occasionally, but never with any success. They might see each other for a week or two before some disagreement blew them apart again.  Their interactions were fraught with the pain of past hurts and the fear of hurts yet to be inflicted.  To be sure, the chemistry, the emotional bond, and the energetic pull that had first brought them together was still there, but both realized that they could not continue to hurt each other over and over again.  It wasn’t going to work.

So they went off and dated new people  — him more than her, but her more seriously than him.  But always… lurking somewhere in the corner of their hearts, was disbelief that, with so much great stuff between them, they simply couldn’t make it work.

And then something happened.  If this were a scripted romance, the something would be monumental — a dramatic climax to a perfectly crafted story, perhaps.  But, alas, this is not a scripted romance, it is real life, and the shift was not dramatic, or even perceptible.  It was silent and invisible and impossible, even now, to pinpoint.  But something changed.

In her, the change manifested itself as a loss of fear.  Not all fear, mind you, but the fear of not being enough for him.  She found herself ready, finally, to ask the hard questions of him, to hear the truth, and to receive it with compassion, even if understanding eluded her.  She was ready to talk about what had gone wrong between them without fear of losing him.  Because, after all, she already had.

For his part, he finally decided that he was tired of running from her and from what they could be together. The risk of letting her in was terrifying, but losing her forever was more so.  He wasn’t sure he could be what she needed, that he was whole enough to be the partner she deserved, but he knew he needed to try harder or risk watching some other man finally claim her heart.

So, one night, they met at their favorite bar for drinks.  It was a familiar scenario; many of their earlier, failed attempts had originated at that same bar.   But tonight was somehow different.  First he talked and she listened, then she talked and he listened. They listened for understanding,  intently and without judgment, asking questions for clarity but without defensiveness.  They talked about all the issues that had been landmines in their relationship — the ones that the mere mention of would immediately generate tension and a retreat to opposing corners.  Each was surprised by the other’s open nature that night, and the conversation went on for several hours, until their tongues were tired and their brains were full.

They separated that evening knowing that something had happened.  What that something was, was still unclear, but it was different and they could both feel it.  “That was the most productive conversation we’ve ever had,” he said to her when he called the next day. “Thank you.”  She agreed and thanked him, too.

And so they began to try to know each other in this new way, from this new approach.  Both had sincere trepidations, given their long and complicated history, but they made a point, in those early weeks, of having fun together again.  It had been so long since they had laughed and teased freely and with ease.  They spent time together, and time apart, and each was mindful of the other’s feelings and needs, without falling into that dreaded “walking on eggshells” trap that had characterized so many of their earlier attempts to work on things.

During their year apart, she had focused on trying to learn to relinquish her expectations of certain outcomes, and she found that she was more comfortable, more secure, and happier with him when she did so in the context of their relationship.  Loosening her tight focus on a single destination for them liberated her to finally relax and truly enjoy the precious, small moments they were creating together.  By living in the now, she discovered that more wonderful little nows were quick to follow.

Not feeling the usual pressure from her that had scared him and caused him to push her away, he was able to let her in.  He told her things he’d never told her before, and appreciated her in ways he hadn’t before.  When a personal and professional crisis that had been looming in his life finally exploded, he discovered in her a best friend, confidant, and trusted adviser.  She was his quiet support and his tender comfort.  They agreed that if they could weather his storm together, they could tackle anything…

So, are you wondering how the story ended?  Are you wondering if they got their happy-ever-after?

Well, the truth is, I don’t know yet.  Because this love story is mine.

It is the story of me and James, and it’s far from over.   It’s not perfect, and yet it is.  We will still argue, because we are human.  We are both still terrified of getting hurt or left or humiliated.  We know we have a lot of hurdles in front of us in order to create something sustainable and healthy, but — for once — we’re talking openly about our fears and trying to support and understand each other.   Who knows if we’ll be able to stay on this track, but I have more confidence in us than I have ever had before.  And, I honestly don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out our future right now.  The present is just right — even with the tough stuff — that I am simply grateful to watch each moment unfold.  Some romances are nice and neat and easy; ours is not.  But is it real and it is beautiful to me.

I awoke recently to find him sleeping next to me, breathing softly and holding my hand tightly.  I rolled over and looked at his peaceful face and felt, as I always do, my heart skip a small beat.

I don’t know what our ending will be, but this, my friends, is my happy new beginning.

swans

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, relationships