Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Half of a Holiday

The first Christmas a week away from being divorced.  I don’t think I could have planned the convergence of these two events any better.  It sounds like the beginning of some really awful chick flick where the protagonist is drunk on Baileys and eggnog and Peppermint Schnapps, bemoaning the end of all that is good, all that is possible, before she throws up all over her best friend and her favorite shoes, and maybe her fluffy white dog, too.  Thankfully, I’m almost four years sober and my favorite beverage, à la Gilmore Girls, is coffee, and my best friends only have to put up with my occasional descent into “woe is me” and I don’t own any fluffy white anything unless you count my daughter’s super soft, white throw blanket, which is hers and hers alone.

But that doesn’t mean this has been an easy Christmas.  I’ve been calling it my Half of a Holiday.  It started with the division of the Christmas ornaments on Thanksgiving.  They were still all over at C’s house in the basement waiting for us to split them up.  All the ornaments we’d collected together, as a married couple over the twenty years together.  The cheap toy soldiers bought when we were graduate students from the dollar store in Houston that decorated our tiny first tree that lasted miraculously all these many years.  The glass “Baby’s First Christmas” tree for Sophia.  The black lab for April, our first beloved dog who died several years back.  Ornaments the kids made for us in their preschool years.  An angel Sophia made as a tree topper.  How to divide any of them?  How to take one and not the other?  We sat in the livingroom, with the ornaments in piles—Sophia’s handmade ones; Alexander’s handmade ones; ones we’d been given; ones we’d bought—and just started taking turns choosing.  My heart splitting open with each choice.  I want a Sophia and an Alexander and a Sophia and an Alexander.  Not an either or.  And then it was over and our piles were half piles and my tree was half full.

Under the tree was half full, too as I was working with half the funds for Christmas shopping that I normally would be working with.  This Christmas has been a lesson in humility and economy but also gratitude.  There were moments when I would feel ashamed that I couldn’t pile up the presents beneath the tree for my kids.  What’s the word?  Plenty.  The other word?  Abundance.  Visual abundance.  I wanted them to be bowled over by all the gifts like they have been used to every year.  The pile-up of presents.  I wanted them to know that I could give them everything they wanted.  That I could do it on my own.  (Really, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  Pride.)  And of course, I imagine if you added the gifts their father was going to give them to the gifts I was giving them, they would have that abundance.  But my gifts on their own?  They didn’t look like much beneath the tree and all I could see was lack.  And I was sure they would see it, too: Mom was only half capable.  Mom could only give half of a Christmas. But when Sophia and Alexander came over and saw the tree all lit up, and saw the presents beneath the tree, they didn’t see anything missing.  Instead, all they could say, over and over for two days straight, was, “There’s so many presents!  I can’t wait to open them!  I can’t believe they’re all for us!”  Where I saw not enough, they saw more than enough.

And then of course, it was half a holiday because I was only with my children for half the holiday.  This is how it will go from now on and on and on.  And I should be grateful as this is the easy year since C and I divided Christmas in half—I had the kids a few days up to and including Christmas Eve, he had them Christmas Day and the next several days.  It was not just a matter of decorating my house by myself, putting up the tree and the lights, hanging the garland up the staircase, it was the moments that revealed absence that were most painful.  And not even just the absence of the kids on the days and nights when they were with C., but the absence of C., the absence of the presence of marriage, of union, of there being four.  When I was hanging up the stockings and there were only three hanging from bannister.  Christmas cards arriving in the mail addressed only to me.  Attending holiday parties alone and everyone else at the parties in pairs.  Buying gifts for the kids, and in my excitement, having no one to show them to before wrapping them up.  Sitting in front of the tree late at night wishing there was someone I could talk to about the year that had passed.  Feeling only half of me was there.

So how did I fill up my empty half?  C. took the kids to Wisconsin for those days after Christmas.  I wasn’t going to sit in front of that tree alone wishing for what wasn’t anymore.  So I went to my family in New York for Broadway fun, shopping, movies, mani/pedi, laughter, connection, marathon talks, and a fancy haircut to boot.  A full New Year’s order.   


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Truth About Scars

I was sitting on my daughter Sophia’s bed and we were having our nightly chat, running through the day, giggling over silly things that happened at school, wondering whether the beginnings of puberty might be as angst-ridden for her as it was for me, and regarding the divorce, that yes, it was absolutely okay to feel sad and angry and confused. 
And then Sophia ran her fingertip up my forearm and said, “How did you really get all these scars?  It wasn’t really from a cat, was it?”

The cat.  The crazy, mysterious unnamed cat had been my demonic perpetrator every time Sophia had asked about the cross-hatching of scars on my forearms.  Of course, no cat could have methodically clawed me in such a brutal, linear fashion.  More like the regular rings of a tree or the centimeter marks ticking up a ruler than any irrational, frenzied clawing. 
But because Sophia has herself been scratched up by her own kitties.  Because Sophia has always been so young and innocent and believed that I would tell her the truth.  Because Sophia wouldn’t know that it would be conceivable to pick up a razor, a shard of glass, or a knife and cut into your very own self why would she think my scars come from anywhere else?

“Well,” I said, “no.”  She was old enough, now, to know.  I live in truth and my relationship with my daughter is one based in appropriate truth.  If I did the calculations, by the time I was her age, twelve, I was already edging toward my descent into depression and two years away from my first drink and first time cutting.  She needed to know I’d been through it and come out on the other side and that she could come to me if in peril.
Sophia ran her finger over my scars.  “Did you get them from cutting?”

I held my breath.  No.  I couldn’t breathe.  What I was most afraid of—that she would know—and she could see—and I had to get this moment right because so much was riding on it.  She would remember if I would tell her the truth so in the future she could come to me and speak her truth.
“I did,” I said.  “I went through a really hard, long time when I thought that would make me feel better.”

“We learned about it in Health class,” she said.  “But I still don’t understand why someone would cut themselves.  Why did you?”

“Oh honey, it’s hard to explain.  But I’ll try.  When I started out, when I was a teenager, I was really depressed and alone.  And I thought feeling the pain of cutting myself would help me feel better.  Feeling the pain on the outside would make the inside pain feel real.”

“Couldn’t you talk to your parents or friends?”  She leaned her head into my shoulder.  I wrapped my arm around her.
“At the time I didn’t think my parents wanted to hear about how I was really feeling.  They thought if I tried to be happy, I would be happy.  And my friends didn’t really want to hear about how I really felt either.  And after a while, cutting myself became a way of dying a little bit.  Does that help?”

“I just don’t like thinking of you like that.  It was like when you used to go away all the time to the hospital.  I missed you so much.”
We looked at each other, both of us crying.

“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been in the hospital?  Almost four years.  My medicine has been working and I’ve been working to stay in a place that is stable which means I get to stay here with you.”
Sophia hugged me and then sat back.  “Remember what you told me about the scar on my eyebrow?  It gives me character.  You just have a lot of character.”