Moving On

“Therapy” #37

Putting words into the atmosphere, and expressing my thoughts and feelings with another person helps me process.  I’m one of those…writers, I think they’re called.  But, sometimes, I need immediate feedback, so verbalizing my thoughts in therapy sessions has been useful.  I’ve seen a therapist during four “divorce seasons” in my life.  The first time I went to talk things through with a therapist was when I was a child and my mother and her husband divorced.  The second was more than 20 years later when my husband agreed to try marital counseling, sort of.

Our marital counseling sessions consisted mostly of me praying in the bathroom before we started:  begging God to show up, begging Him to change my husband’s heart or my heart, or give me the right words to make some immediate, fog-shredding miracle happen, begging Him for a breakthrough.  They consisted of me weeping throughout while my husband sat next to me, an uncommunicative, sequestered echo of who I had known for nearly 11 years.  Once, the therapist was so overcome he actually began to cry when he was trying to convince the man poised for flight next to me not to throw away this life we were building together.  Later, when I asked my husband if he was affected by the therapist’s emotional response to our situation, he said, “No.  I think he’s been doing this too long, and he was dealing with his own stuff, not ours.”  Marital counseling didn’t look promising after that point, but we continued to go for a few more sessions.

The third season came when I was working through our divorce, and I realized that fantasizing about drifting over the dividing line into oncoming traffic wasn’t normal, and I needed help.  I was beginning to separate from reality, to float above it, a sad storm-cloud with no thunder and no lightning, the Eeyore of storm clouds.  I needed someone to talk to–a pro.  And she had a big job.  I had a lot of issues, and she carefully, patiently helped me clear through the lenses of pain, betrayal, and desecrated confidence that muffled everything in my life at that time.

For the first couple sessions, I focused on her youth and freedom.  She was nearly 10 years younger than me and unmarried.  Sometimes, my mind would slink sideways and recall how hopeful I was in my mid-20s, how unsuspecting I was that life could, and would, punch me so hard in the throat.  Sessions with Lauren (of course that was her name), started with me sobbing, continued with me sobbing, sometimes so hard that I couldn’t speak for minutes at a time, and ended with me hiding my reddened eyes behind my sunglasses as I passed the next patient in the lobby.

Weekly we would meet in a prayer room in my church.  She agreed to drive in from St Louis, where her regular practice was located, to see more clients in my local area.  Even though we met in a prayer room, I didn’t pray before those sessions.  I don’t know why not.  Maybe because I was only existing, and only moderately.  And I needed therapy, because I knew I wasn’t going to be all right on my own.  I had to do the work so I could take care of my children.  I didn’t want to be unhealthy for them.  I didn’t want to shrivel up from the inside out and deform into an “abandoned wife.”  I also didn’t want my boys to be the sole source of my emotional worth, little crutches to help me walk through the hurt. I didn’t want them to carry the burden of my unmet needs and unexpected disappointments, my imbued sorrow and soggy hope.  They were only children, and it wouldn’t be fair.  So, I did the work.  Most days, when I left those sessions I felt like a skinned tomato, an unsheltered, bloody discombobulation of nerve endings.  Eventually, I stopped sobbing through every session, and I stopped needing to hide my eyes as I walked through the lobby afterwards.  But most importantly, I stopped thinking of crossing the center line as I drove to work. 

The fourth season of therapy is now:  post-divorce.  It’s really post-everything:  childhood, teenage years, first loves, first times, my roaring 20s, marriage, motherhood (an ongoing excuse to see a therapist), divorce, five deployments, a few promotions, some diplomas, and the end of my 30s.  No trauma is imminent or transpiring (except turning 40 in a couple of years–which I’m really looking forward to)…and no trauma has recently transpired (unless you count the disciplinary meeting I had to attend with my ex about our first-grader–but if I counted that I’d have a trauma at least once a week).  I’m not recovering from anything, and I’m not worried or scared, sad or depressed.  But I am in therapy.  I’m in it.  Fully vested.  Bought in.  Committed to doing more work.

I found her on the internet.  She was listed through some sort of Therapists-R-Us site that seemed legit.  Her profile said she had both counseling credentials and a PhD in her field.  I liked that.  She was all in, too.  She looked mother-y in her photo.  I like mother-y women.  They make me feel cared for and safe.  And her office wasn’t very far from my work, so I could pop over during my lunch break without too much navigation through traffic–all solid reasons to select a therapist.

Dr G is a calming whirlwind.  She pulses energy through her eccentric jewelry, to the streaks of brownish red in her otherwise blond hair.  She sports a trendy bob with an asymmetrical style that’s shorter in the back and lengthens on either side of her jaw line.  I never smell her perfume, if she wears any.  She sits in her office chair with one leg tucked underneath, and she gives me book suggestions about psychology theory.  When I talk, she sits quietly, sometimes writing, sometimes nodding, sometimes waiting to ask me a question.  A calming whirlwind, luring me further inward, into me.  She told me she thinks of me as a fellow woman, not a patient.  And our sessions are nothing more than two women talking about things.  I think of her as an authority figure.  I want her to have the right answers and give them to me.  We’re still getting to know each other and navigating our relationship.

The first time I visited her, I was embarrassed and tried to distract myself by focusing on anything else other than walking into a therapist’s office.  Instead I made eye contact with those I passed on the stairs or saw in the lobby, greeting each one with a smile and a nod.  “See?  I’m a ‘normal’ person seeing a therapist.  See how I meet your eyes and smile?  That’s because I’m ‘normal’.”  In the past, I was obviously drowning, overwhelmed by wave upon broken wave, and in my drowning state, I reached out to therapy as a life-preserver.  I was at the bottom of whatever life I had, and there was no room for embarrassment.  Embarrassment would have been a step up during those times.  But now…Is it okay to go to therapy, even if I have nothing terrible going on in my life?  Am I allowed to simply want to be better?  Is therapy really necessary?

And each time I bounce up the stairs to her office, check in with the receptionist, and wait for Dr G to usher me in, I know the answer:  yes.  It’s okay because it helps me be a light in my sons’ lives and in my own.  I’m allowed and encouraged to be better.  And it’s necessary if I say it is.

I’m still too concerned about other’s thoughts and feelings, Dr G points out.  She calls me out on my self-doubt, and my tendency to minimize hard things I’ve experienced.  She gives me permission to examine them under a microscope if I want, or casually, like window shopping when I’m not ready to go inside.  Her office has become a ruby-warm cave where I am allowed to focus on myself, my thoughts, my frustrations, my joy, and, sometimes, my pain.  I’m still doing the work to be healthier, to be an improved statement of myself, to be my own best thesis.  Dr G assures me that 38 is a terrific age because I’ve evened out the irresponsible pace of my 20s, and I’m ending the uncertainty of my 30s.  I’m preparing for the rest of my wonderful life, she says.  That all sounds so good to me; I’m ready.  Let’s get to work.

 

Categories: Military, Personal Story, Moving On, Personal Story

“Dating” #36

Gangsta in Paris

Gangsta in Paris

Ugh.  Ugh and yuck and ugh.  When I think about dating after divorce, I become super articulate.  It’s like all the elements of the uncomfortable reality overtakes the part of my brain that can formulate anything more than “ugh.”  The last time I really dated, I was in my early twenties.  I looked young and alive and…firm.  I was fit and free of baggage–emotional and physical.  Yeah, my hair was sometimes unruly, and I sometimes needed makeup tips (I, apparently, liked to put on eyeshadow after a few cocktails), but I could wear almost anything and feel good.  And dating was really nothing more than meeting a cutie at the club, busting some moves, playfully laughing at him as he tried to keep up and eventually reverted to grinding his pelvic area into my backside, and then maybe he’d ask for my number or want to buy me a flat beer for a quarter.  It was all really romantic.  Okay…the opposite of romantic, but it was easy.  Less business, less algorithms, and more stupid, empty pleasure.  I miss stupid, empty pleasure, if I’m being honest.

The chemistry either happened right there on the dance floor, or it happened across the crowded basement of some house party as you danced an impromptu routine to Prince’s Kiss.  Chemistry was obvious, or at least less difficult.  Sometimes, you could help it along with a few Dixie cups of beer, Boone’s Farm, or a shot of Jaeger.  Where did those days go?  Wherever they went, I can’t go back there after a decade of marriage, a divorce, two kids, and generally less firmness.  What to do now?Early 20s 4

Apparently, I don’t live a life that’s conducive to meeting single, felony- and STD-free, heterosexual men in person.  It could have something to do with the “I’m-at-the-grocery-store-not-a-beauty-pageant” and “I-really-do-believe-the-gym-is-for-working-out” style and attitude I undoubtedly go around with in the world.  When I’m not at the grocery store or the gym, I’m teaching 19 year olds English stuff or sitting in some Lit class with my fellow PhD candidates (all of whom are married and/or 26).  Both places are not big pick up scenes for me.  But when I look into the crystal ball of my future, I’m less than thrilled with what I see.  In my mind’s eye, my youngest son is packing up his hand-me-down SUV that his older brother left behind when he went away to Harvard two years before.  He is excited to settle in to UNC or USC or UC Berkeley where he received a full academic scholarship.  I am excited to take that long-saved college fund and travel around Europe for the next three months, and after my final “baby” turns to give me an authentic, not at all obligatory hug before putting pedal to metal, I go to wrap my arms around the beautiful, solid, nurturing man by my side–except—um, there isn’t one of those there.  Instead, I am forced to wrap my arms around myself ’cause I am alone.  A. Loney. Lone. Lone. Lone.  All by myself.  Yep.

Farewell party--standing alone then--but with a smile on my face, 1998

Farewell party–standing alone then–but with a smile on my face, 1998

Possible desperate future times call for definite desperate present measures.  So…I paid my membership fee and filled out my online profile.   Who am I looking for?  Let’s see, a non-murderer/rapist, please.  I’d like not to be attacked at any point.  After that, I’d like a man who’s single and divorced only once, if at all.  I’d like him to have NOT cheated on his wife and left his kids.   I’d like him to make upwards of $100K so he doesn’t feel threatened by my salary at all–and he doesn’t need any of it.  I’d like him to have a full head of hair and not be skittish about Caesarian scars.  I’d like him not to post any shirtless pics or pics of him with other women.  That would be great.  I’d like him to be secure enough in who he is that he is willing to follow me around as I carry on with my career.  I’d like him to be assertive without being a domineering ass.  I’d like him to have a master’s degree in something fascinating like rocket propulsion or history or gender studies.  I’d like him to be more than okay with a woman who has kids, but in no way think she needed help from him to raise them.  I’d like him to be funny, but not goofy.  I’d like him to be wicked smart.  Maybe even with a Bostonian accent.  And be totally accessible.  And honest.  And self-aware.  And faithful.  And grown up.  And I’d like him to choose me every single day, but be okay with using the bathroom and closet down the hall because he knows I’ve grown used to spreading out my crap.   Too scary specific and demanding?  Fine.  The dating site forced me to narrow down my wish list into pithy little characteristics anyway:  I’m a woman seeking a man between the ages of 35-45.  Just checking that box makes me feel  like my grandparents.  When I was a kid, I remember my grandparents being in their 40s.  And now I’m looking to date someone who used to be my grandpa’s age.  In my head, that’s just old and weird even though being in your 40s is not old or weird.  In my head, sometimes I’m still 11 and waiting for puberty to hit, and other times I’m in my 20s and still look like I’m in my 20s.  Either delusional way, dating a 40-something is ugh.  And yuck and ugh.  But my profile is up.  Make it rain, dating site.  Make it rain.

Currently online, it’s not quite drizzling.  Once, on an early morning run in Illinois, it was misting.  It was the time of night/morning when the dew was fully present, but the sun was not even close to being awake.  The air was wet.  You couldn’t tell whether moisture was coming down from the heavens or whether the dew was being stirred up from the ground.  The water was like fine dust, whirling around everywhere without committing to being real rain.   The only way I could really feel the wet was when I ran my hands over my hair, condensing the mist and making it gather just enough to equal raindrops.    For me, it’s the same annoyance as dating online.  I’m getting poked and winked at, but it’s not raining.  Right now, I would have to run my fingers across the keyboards to get some rain started and generate some email chatter.  And I’m not willing to do that yet.  If I have to make the first, solid move, he’s probably not going to be up to the challenge of dating me.  Until then, I’m stuck with the three emails I’ve received so far.  The first reads, “You’re beautiful and I’m not looking for anything serious;” the second one states, “hello.” I presume he wrote such a short note because mystery is supposed to be an aphrodisiac.  The final email reads, “For some reason, I can imagine you with a European accent.”  Yikes.

The ease of my 20s

The ease of my 20s

Looks like my imaginary future of wrapping my arms around only myself is coming closer and closer with each click.   Oh well, at least I won’t have to share the long-saved college fund.

 

Categories: Military, Personal Story, Moving On, Personal Story

“Fear” #32

Some time ago, I sat across from my professor and talked about different types of fear.  He was very interested in how I, as a member of the military, processed fear in a deployed environment.  Like most of the things my professors asked me, I hadn’t thought about my fear before.  But I want to try to think about it now, and what I’ve concluded is:  There isn’t much that scares me anymore.

I used to play around with fear. If there was a group going to the haunted houses for Halloween, I was there.  Game of flashlight tag in a cemetery?  Let’s do it.  Scary movie marathon? Can’t wait.  Death-defying roller coaster drop?  Let’s go again.  The charge of electrons that sparked in my brain when it came to being scared was something I sought after as much as I could, in very safe and predictable ways. In all those situations, the thing that I allowed to scare me was controlled. I was secure in the knowledge that the roller coaster would wind its way back to the start, and I would soon find myself safe on the loading platform again.  I knew the scary movie wasn’t real, and the folks in the cemetery were not the same as those from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, waiting to break through their dirt-packed resting places and snatch at my ankles (That video was terrifying when I was a kid!).  Those safe experiences brought a younger type of fear.  It was flimsy and tin-foil thin, and it could be broken through anytime I wanted simply by reminding myself that it wasn’t real.

During my deployments, there were times when I was nervous about being harmed; times when I was grateful for the weight of my small bowie-knife bouncing against the outside of my leg as I walked through a darkened compound alone under watchful eyes; times when I was grateful for my M-4 grasped firmly in my semi-steady hands and the ammunition snuggled inside her; and times when I was happy for the heaviness of the helmet and Kevlar vest weighing me down as our aircraft flew low over enemies with high vantage points. There were several moments when I thought violence towards me was a real possibility and life, as I knew it, could be changed forever, but those fears were never allowed to fully materialize.  They were simply breath-catching minutes that passed with little more than a racing heart, brief body shakes, and a mental sense of relief that something I couldn’t fully fathom hadn’t come to pass. That fear was the type of fear that I wouldn’t allow myself to linger in because what would be the point? Nothing happened. I wasn’t shot or raped by the Saudi guard at the checkpoint who was angry to see a woman alone, driving a car, and pointed his weapon at me while yelling for some explanation I could not provide. I didn’t have to fire my weapon at the young men greedily watching us walk across the bridge towards a village of Al Qaeda sympathizers.  My limbs weren’t blown off by an IED (improvised explosive device) as our SUV bounced along the streets of Kabul days after an attack on an American convoy. No good could come of being traumatized by the possibility of terror.  It was all around me when I was deployed, and I would not be able to function in other ways if I was overcome by possibilities rather than realities.

For me, the possible deployment atrocities where more shallow moments when compared to the fears-come-to-life I had already lived through.   I wrapped those realized fears over my shoulders, tattered shreds hanging down my back, slipping over my chest and down my arms, enshrouding my body and everything in it like an invisible, bullet-riddled bed sheet.  As far as I knew, I had already been through the worst sort of trauma, and it had numbed me to everything to follow behind it.  When I was married, I had a fear that he would find someone else. And then he did. And after the divorce, there were the fears about him moving on, falling in love, re-marrying, and my children getting a stepmother whom they loved.  All those things came to pass.  These fears weren’t the same controlled fears of my youth, and they weren’t the distant fears of being killed in a foreign land.  They were the fears of actuality.  They really happened to me, emptying me of all the things that had filled me since I was a little girl.  During those immediate months after the divorce, I was often like a wild animal, unable to control my thoughts or emotions.  I would writhe in pain, sometimes physically rolling around the floor of my bedroom after my children were asleep, grabbing at my chest, begging for release, begging for my breathing to stop and for my heart to quit its insufferable beating.  My fear was embodied within me.  I could touch it, and stare it down in the mirror.  I wrestled with it, and it kicked my ass.  But with each new terror that came true, the struggle began to subside.  I stopped fighting the fear and began to recognize it as a foreshadowing of strength to come.  The fears happened, and I had to experience them fully, undiluted and unchecked by any protection.  And the happenings made me braver and more certain that I was being held by something so much stronger than me because the fear didn’t kill me.

I didn’t die of a broken heart, just as I didn’t die from an IED. I didn’t die at the hands of my enemies, either home or abroad.  Instead, the sun came up every morning and switched places with the moon every night. The trash kept getting picked up from the curb, and the mail kept getting delivered.  My kids kept calling me mom, and the dog continued to need food and water.  So, when one of my friends off-handedly remarked that I didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, I guess he was right.  I may have a moment of panic, but I soon come around to the certainty that things will be better than fine.   I am not afraid of things (most things) because I live in the reality that something much bigger, much greater, much more powerful than me and my capabilities keeps things going. I can take a deep, sometimes ragged, breath and step into the street in Kabul or sit down to a cup of coffee with my sons’ stepmom, because I have met the type of fear that I thought would destroy me and lived to tell the tale.  Things kept going.  Things keep going.  I am one of the lucky ones.

Categories: Military, Military, Personal Story, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

#31

When I arrived in San Antonio for basic training nearly 16 years ago, I didn’t have a name.  Technically, I had one, but nobody there cared what it was.  I was called “female,” if I was called anything at all.  It was very strange how quickly I became used to my new name:  female.  It came with a certain ambiguous identity.  I had a place, but it was along with all the other female basic recruits.  And I didn’t have to settle into that name:  female.  I didn’t have to put it on, button it up, wear it, truly inhabit it, believe in it, or define it.  It already came with a body, and I just had to stay in its shadow.  Then, when I graduated basic training, I was recognized in a new way, the name I was born with:  Thurman.

The military moves in graduations.  We never jump in, head-first, full-bodied into the next phase.  We are gingerly allowed to dip a toe, then up to the knee, then wade to the neck into the too shallow tub of individualism.  In keeping with the tradition of less individuality is more, my first name was not used by my newly created friends, but I was allowed my surname.  Being called by my last name was strange, but not uncharted territory.  I played sports for many years, and the military wasn’t so different from the athletic world in the regard of last names.  But, my teammates called me by my nickname more often than not:  Red.  No one calls me Red anymore.  Maybe I’ve outgrown it; maybe it’s too strange a name to call a nearly 40-year-old woman.  So, what happened to Red?  In fact, what happens to any names I’ve carried, but no longer wear?  I think there is a Lost and Found.

Before I married so many years ago, my fiancé and I discussed what name I would use–it was a discussion initiated by me.   For him, taking on his last name was a foregone conclusion.  A done deal.  No discussion necessary.  I remember trying to talk to him about how nervous it made me to no longer be Thurman after 24 years of being Thurman.  Who was this Clemens person?  What made her tick?  How did she navigate the world?  He saw my nerves as rejection.  His name was a source of pride for him, and he wanted his wife to wear his name.  In love, trusting that I was loved in return, the discussion ended.  I acquiesced.  Passive.  I would no longer wear the name I had worn since birth.  I would just put on a new one.  Clemens was born.

With slightly less ease than he exerted when he gave me his name, the gift that he was convinced made me more his than not his, he jumped away from me, but left his name behind.  And when we divorced, my children, young, strapping Clemens’ boys, were upset at the thought of me shedding the name they had worn since birth.  “If you’re not a Clemens, you won’t be our mom anymore!”  They are worried.  For them, my existence is wrapped up in the name.  And, again, I acquiesce, and wear it, a strip on my military uniform, a flourish on my driver’s license.

Just go back, someone suggested.  Be Thurman again.  If only.  But I’m not Thurman anymore; I abandoned her.  She was less changed, less formed by names she no longer carries.  Will I still fit her?  I worry she will not have me back.  Thurman died at 24.  Can I resurrect her?  I’m not Red anymore, either.  I didn’t leave Red, but she left me when I turned–what–22 or maybe before?  Regardless, I’m too old for cute nicknames, now.  And I’m beginning to grow out of my Clemens’ skin.  Someone else is filling the clothes of Mrs. Clemens now.

What name will I wear moving forward?  When I achieve something, who will get the achievement?  Will I still be the same mother to my Clemens’ boys?  I don’t know.

Categories: Military, Military, Personal Story, Motherhood, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Another One Bites the Dust” #30

Today is New Year’s Eve.  As I sit here in my down-sized, divorce house in Colorado (about half the size of my married home in Illinois–the home my then-husband designed and had built for our growing family), I’m staring at all the clutter, toys, video games, books, suddenly out-of-place Christmas decorations and just stuff lying around what seems to be every square inch, and I really wish I already started drinking.  Yes, I admit it.  I wish I had a nice, super-friendly, alcohol-induced buzz humming through my body, making my brain a little fuzzy, a little less perfectly clear and present in this mess of a house.  But I didn’t, so I don’t.  What I do have is too much dust on the surfaces, too many dishes in the sink and too much dog hair on the dull wooden floors.

In 2010, I counted down the minutes until 2011 by crying on my couch in my roomier, cleaner, dust-free married home in Illinois.  I had a better idea of what I faced:  a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, a divorce, and a year away from my children.  In 2011, I counted down the minutes to 2012 from Afghanistan, happy in the knowledge that I would be heading back to the states in a few weeks, and strangely secure in the knowledge that I would be starting over in the new year.  Last year, I counted down the New Year from a party in New Orleans with my great friend, Varner.   We dressed up, went out, drank responsibly, and I danced for the first time in a very long time.  It was fun, and I was excited about the prospects of 2013 because, before my trip, I went on a date with a guy from Denver and I had excitement about possibilities.  My excitement wasn’t authentic though; it was me trying to keep up with my ex who was getting married in a couple of months.  I wasn’t ready and still had personal work to do.

New Year’s is marketed as the time of the year when we should take account of the past and celebrate the hope of the future.  But what happens if the unknown is just too unknown, you know?  Yesterday, I drove to the mountains to do some snowboarding before my kids came home from their weekend with their dad.  The powder was nearly perfect:  soft, ample, fluffy–what the seasoned riders call “pow.”  Feeling brave, I decided to hit some of the trails that I hadn’t explored yet–it was time to branch away from the beginner “greens” to the more experienced “blue” trails.  There’s one lift at Winter Park called the Panoramic Lift.  It takes riders to the top of the mountain to overlook the brilliance of the peaks at over 12,000 feet above sea level.  After clumsily exiting the lift to the top of the world, I pulled out my cellphone to snap a picture and was disappointed to see the coveted panoramic view of everything below blocked by an unmoving, cloudy haze.  With the exception of the top of the ridge, all I could clearly know was the Parsenn Bowl, what resembled a spoon’s scoop out of the mountaintop.  After waiting patiently for the 20-minute ride to the top of the summit, I couldn’t see anything below me, and now I had to dive down into it.  That’s a bit what New Year’s Eve looks like to me this year.

12,600 feet

Marketing picture of 12,600 feet–what I didn’t get to see

This year, I’m cleaning my cluttered house (or going to be), taking stock of 2013, and trying to see past my own cloudy haze into 2014.  Over the last few years, I’ve been sowing, rebuilding, healing, thinking, crying, starting and starting and starting over and over again.  What’s in store for 2014?  This is probably the part where my readers (all 20 of you) expect me to say that I’m confident in the future, but, truthfully, I don’t feel anything for 2014 yet.  I don’t feel sad like I did in 2010, or brave like I did in 2011, or falsely excited like I did in 2012.   I feel…nothing.  Maybe I’m too tired from sowing.  And a little impatient to see some buds sprouting through the packed earth.  My faith calls me to remember that I’ve been consistently led through darkness in my past to the light, but I can’t see any light…yet.  So, I keep coming back to my time on the mountain yesterday, when I stood at the top, and I was certain of one thing:  I had to get back to the base somehow.  I had my board strapped to my feet, and I knew how to use it.  Regardless whether or not I could see what was beyond the cloud cover, I did have what I needed to ride my way to where I could see things more clearly.  I stood up, pushed off and started the descent.

trees

My views on the way down

Even though I couldn’t see anything clearly from the top, with every inch I rode down, the paths became clearer.  I may not have been able to take the picture I wanted, but the scenery that surrounded me was breathtaking, and when I got to the bottom I could look back up the slopes and catch my breath at the distance I’d covered.  I’m holding onto that experience as 2014 looms ahead of me.  I have what it takes to face the unknown, and the clouds can’t stay there forever.  Some day, they will move.  For now, it’s time to get back to work.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Along for the Ride” #29

My friend Holly is responsible for my addiction.  She said it was what all the cool people were doing, and I wanted to be cool.  She made it look so great, and fun, and freeing.  She was my pusher, and after only one trip on the powder I was hooked.  Before I knew it, I was taking a trip every other weekend when my kids were with their dad, sometimes even taking off work to maximize the experience.  I fell madly in love with snowboarding.549978_10100860160658054_1268818898_n

The first time I tried snowboarding was the same day my ex was getting married somewhere in Pittsburgh.  It was about a week before my 37th birthday, and I could not sit at home counting down the minutes.  Instead, I agreed to take a snowboarding lesson at Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado.  I guess I figured what better way to keep my mind occupied than by hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speeds?  I wasn’t a total novice to the slopes.  I had tried skiing once in college when my roommate wanted to go to Paoli Peaks in Indiana.  I was super ready because the hills of Indiana are EXACTLY the same as the 12,400 foot peaks in Colorado.

The morning of my snowboarding lesson I was excited but nervous.  My last trip on powder ended up with one ski wrapped backwards (and my knee along with it), a swollen ankle, some sort of medical snowmobile ride and young children whizzing past my mangled form on tiny skis.  And that was nearly 20 years earlier.  I was determined not to give in to the very real fear (some may say “common sense”) that threatened to talk me out of jumping on the board and taking it for a ride.

Fresh powder

In the first few minutes of the lesson I learned how to strap my feet into the bindings (straps on the board that keep your feet attached when you fall again and again and again–and they’re supposed to help you actually control the board like reins on a willful stallion), and I learned to “skate,” by strapping in my lead foot and pushing my back foot along the snow, moving the board forward like a skateboard.  I rocked skating.  Rocked it.  If skating on a snowboard was an Olympic event, I definitely would have received a silver medal.  Feeling pretty cocky, I stupidly indicated I was ready for more.  Eventually, I moved into the phase where both feet could be strapped firmly into the bindings, and my instructor and I took a magic carpet (moving sidewalk) up the gentle slope of “learner’s hill.”

The hill looked very sweet from the bottom.  Its gentle sloping and harmless, cloud-like snow was inviting and safe–from the bottom.  Once the carpet deposited me at the top of the “bump,” as my instructor called it, I made the mistake of looking down.  The bottom was miles away, and seemed to be on an almost straight-down, death drop from where I was standing with my inadequate skating accomplishments.  The instructor reminded me that I did, indeed, know how to stop (I had practiced several times), and we were here at the top of Mt Everest so I could practice “leafing,” which was riding down the hill, drifting from side to side like a leaf falling from a tree to the ground.  I rocked falling.  I fell trying to stand up on the board; I fell within a few feet of standing up on the board; I fell midway down the hill; I fell two or three more times before I reached the bottom of the hill; and I fell trying to get in line for the magic carpet to take me back up the hill.  The snow falsely presented its softness and every fall hurt, a lot.  It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, and I couldn’t get enough.  Traveling on the snow, even upright only a few feet at time, I felt unfettered.  Despite being strapped onto the board, I started to feel parts of my heart and mind become resuscitated after years of flatlining.

I took another lesson a week later and the conditions were perfect.  Inches and inches of fresh, soft, ample snow cushioned the slopes, and I started progressing in my skills.  I was hooked.  The feeling of riding down the mountain was enough to keep me coming back fall after fall, ride after ride.  During those first few days, I could barely sit on my backside and I knocked my shoulder away from the comfy home of its socket.  I didn’t care.  Each time I got on the lift, my fear (common sense) would build, and my heart would flap its wings frantically in my chest.  Was I really going to hurl myself down the 12,000 foot mountain?  Seriously?  Yep–over and over.

Snowboarding

The first time I made it down the mountain without falling was a personal triumph–and my butt-bone was pretty happy about it, too.  I don’t know what the triumph was over exactly, maybe loss.   For the last few years going through a divorce and taking inventory of whatever was left, I had lost so much, even the ability to truly feel anything–but snowboarding helped me stir some embers and bring something about me back to life.  And, even though there’s a line at every ski lift that’s clearly marked “Singles only,” I hold my head high, skate right to the front like a silver medalist would, hop on the lift with whatever 12-year old snowboard aficionados are heading up the mountain, and get ready to enjoy my ride.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Girlfriends” #28

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Girlfriends

In middle school, high school, and most of college, my girlfriends were my center.  Everything I did, and everything I knew came from them and returned to them.  But, over time, let’s say college age, I became one of those girls who would describe herself as someone who “got along better with guys than with girls.”   Which really just meant I wanted the boys I thought were cute all to myself, but I used the unoriginal excuse that girls seemed to crave drama and guys were just easy going and liked to hang out, not gossip or start trouble.  As time moved on, the girlfriends I had from my younger days, I kept, but I wasn’t interested in making any new ones–really ever.

295293_3379028404535_633336833_nWhen I got married, some woman, I don’t remember who, told me to find good girlfriends and hold them tight.  And whatever-her-name-was was right.  My husband did not like my male friends, not even my old ones.  It was better for him that we made couple friends, and after a few fights, I agreed it was better for our relationship if we made couple friends.  I thought making friends with a couple would mean my husband would get to hang out with the cool half of the couple and I would get stuck with the wife.  But what I didn’t know was that making couple friends would save me by opening up a whole world I hadn’t really explored in my youth:  the world of girlfriends.

3345_1078543849454_1791839_nDuring the early years of my marriage, I met great girlfriends like Rachel who was married to Josh and Jill who was married to Doug.  Luckily, both my husband and I got along with both halves of the couple, and they got along with us—or at least they continued to invite us over for weekend football games, game nights and holidays.  As time went on, my husband became more comfortable with me hanging out with single girlfriends like Rachael who lived with me when my husband was in Korea (man, did we have some fun times!), Courtney who has a firecracker wit and the smarts to match, my supervisor Eliza who was awesome wrapped in a small package sealed with terrificness, or Jilly who was deemed “safe” because she was dating one of my husband’s friends–luckily for me she was also full of energy and had a caring heart.  I started accumulating so many girlfriends; it became hard to see the forest for the trees.  But my early instincts to keep the cute boys all to myself wasn’t wrong, and eventually the drama came, not in the form of any of my girlfriends, but in the form of one of my husband’s.

22731_1348393108090_433644_nWhen my world began imploding, it was my girlfriends who stood by my side, sometimes holding me up and other times, picking me up off the floor.  It was my girlfriends who talked me through the crazy thoughts and allowed me to sharpen my faith on the stones of their experience, grace and compassion.  I didn’t necessarily seek out girlfriends, but they kept coming into my life through my Bible study class, or through work, or friends from my past who reached out to help me, like my girl Meg in Tennessee who spent countless hours on the phone with me, letting me weep and curse, shout and sit silently.  Women opened their arms to me like my sister-in-law-turned-friend, Jen, who put up with more of my whining and crying at the same time she was pushing me to run farther, run faster and pick up the pieces of my perspective.

167341_1840581296886_750572_nDuring my deployment to Afghanistan, I met Peggy, Melissa and Megan, and I deepened my friendship-turned-sisterhood with Tommi.  All these women let me expel the demons of my thoughts, and, like the best girlfriends should, they cried with me sometimes; they made me laugh sometimes; they told me it wasn’t my fault sometimes; they gave me difficult truths sometimes, and they showed up all the times I needed them.

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I continue to receive the gifts of girlfriends as the shadows are starting to dissolve back to where they came from a little more each year.  I meet wonderful women; some of them are introduced to me by their husbands, and some I have the honor of serving alongside like Shelmon and Deb who have shared their faith and never-say-die-attitudes.  Others are in my life just because sisterhood is a beautiful thing that I didn’t understand or appreciate because I was so blind for so long.

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My family, Melissa and Megan

 There is little more precious a gift than sharing your life with someone else.  Each one of my beautiful girlfriends has shared her heart with me in some way, lifted me up and pushed me forward in others, commiserated with my pain and disappointment and my struggles with motherhood and being an ex-wife.  Now, I’m moving into a phase where there are women in my life who are there because they need girlfriends, too, to show them that the girls don’t bring the drama.  When you get older, girlfriends bring the healing and, hopefully, the wine.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

“The Miracles of Music Recitals” #27

My blog’s title promises stories of things other than the military, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a little something different this week.  And because my blog is my therapy, I’m going to figuratively lie down on the shrink’s couch.  This week, I will write about holiday music recitals and the miracles they bring.  My oldest son is in second grade, and last year was the first time I had to attend a music recital.  I went to the 3:00 p.m. performance (amazingly, there was more than 1 performance) to avoid running into my ex-husband and his, at the time, fiancé during the evening performance.  While the singing skills weren’t going to win any choir awards (mumble, mumble, “little turkey,” mumble, mumble, “grandma’s house”), it was a bittersweet moment to watch my boy in his very first school “thing.”  He was still young enough to be excited when he found me in the crowd, waved enthusiastically and, uncaring who was watching, made strange faces at me from his perch on the risers.  But watching that performance was also another moment where, if someone had asked me three years earlier, I wouldn’t have thought I would be sitting alone, watching my children grow up without sharing the moments with my husband.

This year, there were a few changes to the re-visited experience.  My son was now in the second grade and the choir teacher spruced up the song list to include “10 Little Turkeys,” one of my all time faves.  The music teacher also incorporated lyric cue cards to avoid the embarrassment of 2012 when the kids forgot the words, and we had to listen to the off-key hummmmm-hummmmmm-hummmmming of 45 seven-year-olds.  This year, there was also a country theme, so my boy needed to wear his best country and western attire consisting of blue jeans, work boots and a flannel shirt.  The last major change between this year and last year was that I also had to attend the performance at the same time as my ex-husband and his now wife.

I wasn’t sure I was going to make the performance at all because this year I was coming from class at a local university about an hour away (it’s another story so I’ll save it for a future blog post).  As I was slowly maneuvering back through the Denver traffic at rush hour, I seriously considered finding a spot at a neighborhood bar and ordering too many hot wings (aka:  beer).  But I didn’t.  I made it to the school with a full 5-minutes to spare.  When I walked into the gymnasium-turned-auditorium, I expected to find a safe, quiet space at the back of the room and watch my boy in his second ever school “thing.”  But my natural instincts to sit down beat out my self-preservative need to keep my distance—I looked around for an empty seat and saw an entire row of them—right beside my ex and his bride.

Normally, I stress for a bit when I know I’m going to have to see him, planning out how to react, how to make the interaction as short and succinct as possible, planning how to maintain my sanity and not karate chop him somewhere sensitive.  For whatever reason, maybe it was divine guidance because I listened to the book of Matthew all the way to Denver and all the way back, I didn’t think about the delicate waltz of running into him at the choir performance.  That’s the only reason I can come up with for why I did what I did when I saw him and his wife sitting in that nearly empty row at the back of the gymnas-uditorium.

As soon as I saw the back of her head, I went right over to her without hesitation.  It was as if someone yelled, “Action!” and I started performing the part I had been rehearsing for the past year.  I put my hand on her shoulder (not around her neck, as many who know me may have expected) and greeted her warmly…and, dare I say, sincerely?  Then, because Jesus is a performer of miracles, I sat down next to my ex and his wife as if they were saving the empty seat just for me, which they weren’t.  My ex looked back and forth between the two of us and shifted in his seat.  I flashed a smile and asked them about their Christmas plans.  I don’t know who I was in that moment.

When the choir walked in, each finding his and her place on the carpeted steps that passed as risers, I craned my neck to see my boy.  There he was, in his plaid shirt provided by his stepmom and his jeans and work boots provided by me, looking just as country as any choir director could want or need.  Just like last year, he enthusiastically looked around for his expected audience and found his father and stepmother.  He grinned and waved, and then his eyes walked down the row of chairs and saw me.

photo

Happy to see us.

I was glad I didn’t overthink what I would or wouldn’t do when I saw my ex at the recital.  I was glad I sat down next to him and his wife.  In that moment, my son’s grin went into a full-on monkey smile that took up more than half of his face.  We all reacted to his joy, at once giggling and waving back frantically.  Having us all in one place together probably made our child feel centered.

During the performance, sad thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the two of them, heads together, making comments as if they were his parents and I was the outsider, but I pushed the thoughts away, choosing to stay in the moment of my son feeling safe with all the people he loved and who loved him in close proximity to each other.

Happy boy.

Happy boy.

After the 30-minute singing extravaganza was finished, my son’s stepmother and I made our way to the front of the other parents taking pictures of their little darlings.  We snapped away, and I said my goodbyes as I made my way outside to my car.  Once safely ensconced in the darkness and privacy of my front seat, whatever magic that allowed me to dance through the evening vanished, and I burst into unrestricted tears.  The tidal wave of sadness was unexpected and absolutely complete.  I don’t know why this time in my life is taking so long to pass, or if it will ever pass, but I hold tight to the joy of seeing my son’s face as he saw me sitting with the other people who make him feel loved.

Categories: Motherhood, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

“I felt like running–Forrest Gump” #13

Working for the Chief of Staff was overwhelming, in theory. He was a pretty important man in charge of all the United States forces in Afghanistan, about 60,000 of us at the time. He worked directly for the commander of the war in Afghanistan. In simplest terms, he was a big deal. I, on the far away other hand, made sure his mini-fridge was stocked with Diet Pepsi. He drank a lot of Diet Pepsi, so I was very busy in those first few days. The Chief of Staff was an Army Colonel and former big time West Point football player. He brought his highlight reels with him to Afghanistan and wasn’t shy about sharing them with anyone who showed an inclination to watch, which seemed to be most of the junior Army officers. He also stayed up too late, averaging about three to four hours of sleep each night. He had an uncanny knack for appearing to be asleep in meetings only to join right into an ongoing conversation around the boardroom table. The job suited me because I could quietly fall apart at my desk, and the Chief really didn’t notice.

I fell apart a lot in those early months. Being away from ISAF was better, but it didn’t cure all that ailed me. I talked to my children over the Skype software that connected us through the thousands of empty miles. Every other morning, I awoke at 0500, logged on to the Afghan’s temperamental Internet connection and talked to them at a convenient time for my stranger-husband. It was rejuvenating to talk to my boys, but it broke my heart to be ignored by the man I loved. We never spoke. In fact, I never saw his face on the computer screen, not once. I felt like I had no one who cared about me back in the States, which was ridiculous because I had plenty of family members who were anxious about my safety. All I could see was that my husband wasn’t one of those people. I was beginning to disconnect from reality again, but this time I didn’t have anyone to help ground me. Back home, my friend Kris and I would meet at least once a week for early morning therapy sessions of miles of running and talking. When we weren’t running together, I was running alone. Long, lung-burning runs that never took me away from my reality, but did let me feel pain in something other than my heart for a little bit. I was able to focus only on the strength needed to pick up my legs and put them down for miles and miles. I didn’t have to focus on my husband leaving me. Now in Afghanistan, the only thing I could think to do was run, but I was trapped inside concrete walls and bulletproof vests, behind gates and guards with weapons at the ready. I couldn’t simply take off outside of the compound and go for long, healing runs with Kris. Thankfully, she was far away from Kabul and everything it contained. I was not, and I still needed to figure out some way to make it through the remaining eleven months of my deployment. I started running around the compound.

It took me nine laps around to run six miles. I worked for the Chief from 0700 each morning until nearly 0100 the next day, and then I would run six miles every night, feeling like Forrest Gump. At first, I was very scared–but not terrified. Looking back, I would have welcomed death in those early days, if it had found me. I thought it would be a welcomed relief that I wasn’t getting anywhere else. And dying while running around the road of the compound would be more honorable than to choke on a grape in my kitchen, which was what I thought about now that I lived alone in the States. But I was still scared each time I set off on a run.

The blackness around the “track” was only broken up by the faint illumination of generator-powered lighting scattered around the perimeter of the compound. The only thing separating me from the outside was a concrete wall about twelve to fifteen feet high. It looked like my five-year old could have thrown something over the wall, so it was not much protection against a bomb being tossed over. On those first few runs, my brain was hyper-focused on every sound I heard, every pebble that fell in the distance. Each parked truck I ran past was a possible container for explosives just waiting for a target. But there wasn’t anything separating me from those on the inside of the wall. Most of the guards around the perimeter were Afghans, and their eyes were trained on me from the watchtowers as I ran in my military physical training shorts and t-shirt. I could feel them staring, and oftentimes, see their eyes through the wooden planks of the towers. I tried the friendly, non-threatening head nod if my eyes caught theirs, but it was never returned. Although they were our “allies,” I was still a woman, uncovered and American. With the way they stared, I was more concerned about being raped than being killed by someone or something from the outside. They weren’t lustful stares, more direct and unfriendly. I was not wanted there. I was grateful for the bump bump of the knife in my pocket, reassuring me with each step I ran.

Categories: Military, Motherhood, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Ghosts” #12

The ISAF base was a European village filled with German, Italian, French, Canadian and American flavor. It was a poor man’s “It’s a Small World” for the alliances of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And it was the same base where my husband had been deployed when he started an affair as a way to get out of our marriage. I walked past coffee shops and work sections that he described on his phone calls home during his deployment. He told me all about the movie room where people hung out after work and the recreation room where people played Ping-Pong and pool. From his phone calls, I recognized the women’s dorms where she surely stayed, right next to the men’s dorms where he would have stayed. When he returned home, he even told me stories about her, his friend who “they all” hung out with during their downtime. But as soon as I laid eyes on him again, my heart knew everything was wrong. The man who I loved for more than a decade, who I shared children with, and who I had woven the beginnings of a life with, was capable of disregarding me so completely. They would have been on these walkways together about a year before I arrived, laughing and talking on the same streets, at the same coffee shops, in the same rec rooms, in the same dorms. But in the past, I was not here, not physically, not in his memory, and not in his heart. I wasn’t here then, but I was here now with their ghosts. Being at ISAF was breaking me further down and my anger was wrapping itself around my heart and suffocating my newly discovered faith that God would perform miracles for me.

When I wasn’t haunted that every place I walked past held memories of the two of them together, I was learning my mission in the Joint Visitors Bureau. We were responsible for arranging all travel for very important persons (VIPs) throughout Afghanistan. War is great re-election fuel, and getting “boots on the ground” in a war zone was the thing to do. It wasn’t unusual to see a well-known senator, congressman, or even the occasional movie star’s name on a visitor request. The JVB, as it was known, was responsible for any visitor who was allowed to tour the battlegrounds, and only the most important politicians, civic leaders and military leaders fit the standards. I should have been excited to meet the Vice President, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, Ben Affleck and Chuck Norris, but I was not. Instead, I was, once again, a half-person with a heartbeat, but no heart. Each passing day drew me deeper and deeper into a dark mental state. I hadn’t laughed in weeks, and I rushed to every church service offered so I could focus on the promise of something greater than the pain in my heart. I slept every chance I could get and focused doubly on my work.

After nearly three weeks in country, the Colonel who led the JVB asked me if I was interested in moving to New Kabul. My misery made me an impressive machine in the office, quickly picking up on my duties and soon being rewarded with the sole responsibility of a very impressive group of VIPs. I guess I handled that visit without a hitch, I don’t remember caring about it, but now there was a position opening up in the Chief of Staff’s office, and the Colonel thought I would be perfect for it. New Kabul Compound (NKC) was almost directly across the street from ISAF, but with the security measures, checkpoints and roundabout routes to avoid getting blown up, it took about 20 minutes to load up the vehicles and drive there. It was a much smaller compound in the center of the city, more exposed than ISAF, with only a concrete wall to protect those who lived there from those who wanted to kill them. But it wasn’t ISAF. It wasn’t filled with memories I didn’t make. There were no ghosts there. “Yes, sir. I’ll take it.” It was the day before my thirty-sixth birthday, and this was the best gift I would receive.

Categories: Military, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

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