It’s Good to be the King

Do you remember that time when there was no gray area? There was only black and white. It was very clear the lines between what was right in the world and what was wrong. There were defined boundaries. Facts were facts. Dark versus light. Good versus evil.

All that shit.

I believe this period of self assuredness is referred to as adolescence. At least it was for me.

You probably think I’m about to get political with this. Nope. Come along friends, let’s talk about some other weird obscure shit. (You know how I do.)

As I age I find more and more of those lines blurring. More often than I’d like to admit I see gray, gray everywhere. “Is this ok, like morally?” you ask me.

“No,” I say, “Well, actually it depends. Tell me the whole story.”

This past summer while visiting family I was talking with my aunt and I told her that the older I get the less judgmental I become. “Really?!” she responded, “It’s usually the opposite.” She’s right, age usually hardens most of us. I guess that’s the difference. I exited adolescence like a stone. Thankfully my heart has softened with age.

But it’s not just that. It’s that little by little the people I love do things I would have judged before. They make poor parenting choices, they let their teeth go because they don’t have dental insurance, they are inexcusably self involved, they make unhealthy emotional decisions and then complain about the outcome, they disappoint me. They turn out to be human. As my husband once summed up about my general existence, “You expect a lot of people.”

I do, I really do. But each day I learn to expect a little less. This isn’t me submitting to reality, this is me embracing it. Me finding freedom in it. As a client once said, “Once we realize that people only really care about us in terms of how our lives affect their own, we are free.”

I’m going to be thirty-five in a few short weeks. Perhaps it’s an early mid-life crisis (please tell me it’s too early to be the middle of my life) but I’m done with people’s expectations. This didn’t happen overnight. Las year I made a resolution to “give zero fucks,” as the kids say these days. Little by little I have put all the fucks away. I’ve got no fucks left to give. Hell, I’m taking fucks back. Snatching them right out of greedy little hands.

gold_shoes

Went to buy new kicks. Gave zero fucks.

I’m going to do whatever I want to do, because as it turns out I have always analyzed things way too much. Shocking, right? I have always been there for others entirely too much. I have been the glue far too often. The light in the dark. The nurse. The purse. Johnny on the spot with the bail money. The Mama, long before I was a Mama.

Can any other women relate?

I decided not to wait on anyone anymore. I decided my plans would no longer be contingent on the plans of anyone else. I started working out consistently again. I have gone to the gym every day for the last fourteen days. Right now as I type this I’m sitting in a coffee shop alone while my husband and children are at home sleeping. I stopped asking if my husband would be home for dinner. I never felt right asking him that question anyway. I never enjoyed calling him up like a 1950s housewife. I stopped asking him to come inside from the garage. I stopped caring if he drank a few too many beers in the evening. Somehow the brooding art school student from NYC that I fell in love with grew up to be the kind of guy who spends his evenings working in the garage, drinking PBR. I love him just the same, but I decided to stop expecting anything from him at all.

And a miraculous thing happened.

He started to want my attention. He started to want to be home. “You’re going to the gym again?” he says, “Oh, um ok. I thought we were going to watch TV together.”

He started wanting me around. It was fucking weird. And then I had a revelation.

I have become a man and it is AMAZING. Apparently being a man is like the best fucking thing on earth.

A friend of mine had been doing the same thing. Basically just taking care of herself and her children, not neglecting her husband but asking nothing of him. She was keeping busy. She was plugging through the way we do when we’re trying to tick off the days on the calendar like an inmate. The same thing happened with her husband. He started coming home early. He was buying her flowers. He was planning family day trips.

We had accidentally been using reverse psychology. I told her we had become men. “Holy shit!” she said. “Document this shit right here. This is the day.”

Ladies, I don’t know what I’m saying here. I’m not telling you to ignore your husband. Hell, after seventeen years it wasn’t even his attention I was after. It was me I was after.

It’s good to be the king.

But we already knew that, now didn’t we?

Sometimes the End of the Road is the Beginning

“I think I’m going to go back to the gym after the kids are in bed” I say still dressed in my workout clothes from an earlier Pilates class. “That class was just too easy. I think the instructor toned it down today or something. I didn’t even break a sweat.”

“Um, ok that’s fine,” he says “I have a bunch of data entry stuff I need to do anyway. And I’ve gotta ship some stuff out tomorrow, so I need to box it up. Let’s get the kids to bed.”

I head back to the gym in the dark. The night is unseasonably warm. I drive with the windows down, music blaring. Alone in the darkness.

This is really all I wanted. I just needed to get in the car and get out of there. To run away momentarily. To drive, alone, at night. The gym is too close to my house, the drive not long enough.

drive

The summer I was sixteen my brother shipped off to the Navy. One overcast afternoon in June a black sedan with government plates came and took him away. My father cried, the handle of his briefcase clenched in his giant fist as he headed back to work. My mother didn’t cry. I think she had done all her crying weeks prior. The moment was a big one. Too big perhaps for me to fully process at the time. All I knew was that my big brother had left for good, grownup and gone. He left me there alone, waiting for my own moment to go. As his baby sister he had also left his car in my care. A ’92 Chevy Blazer with whitewall tires and a stiff clutch. My big bro, he really loved me, still does too. Best damn brother around.

A few weeks later my mother was off on some trip. I don’t remember where. My father was a heavy sleeper. Night after night I would grab the keys and walk right out the front door into the darkness. As my brother sank into stressful sleep in a bunk 900 miles north of me, I would drive his car aimlessly. Winding back and forth over each of the quiet back roads of suburban developments still being built. Entire neighborhoods, business complexes sat waiting, like ghost towns. Construction sites dark and empty, equipment left sleeping. Dirt lots that beckoned teenagers to sneak out of bedroom windows and do bad bad things while their parents slept. There were no cell phones then. I didn’t text friends. I didn’t pick anyone up. I just drove, the radio going, a cigarette in one hand, the other on the stick shift. Sometimes I’d stop for a Slurpee to give the trip a purpose, but mostly I just drove. Just me, the moon, and the warm summer air.

I was alone and it was fantastic.

Sometimes I’d drive all the way out until the boulevard dead ended. I would park and look at the moon. I would write. I had no idea that the very spot I was sitting would one day be a major intersection. An intersection that seventeen years later would be the main road to my house, in a neighborhood that didn’t exist yet, on roads that had yet to be plowed out of those fields filled with antelope.

The end of that road would one day be the beginning of another life.

Time has a way of changing everything, doesn’t it? We just keep coming in like carpenter ants, don’t we? We move the earth one piece of sand at a time. We build new worlds.

We build lives we could have never imagined.

I shut off the minivan and sit there for a minute in the parking lot of the gym. Before kids I would have never lingered alone in a parking lot at night. But now I just sit there. I’m not really afraid of anything anymore. I look out at the highway, at the cars heading south. I say out loud to myself, “Where do you want to go?”

I hear a voice answer, “Anywhere but here. Just drive.” I imagine myself in a different car, a faster one, somewhere far out on a desert highway.

A man gets into the car next to mine, and I startle. I take a breath. I get out and walk into the club. I put my bag in the locker. I find a treadmill and I run. I run as much as my fat ass will allow, until sweat drips into my eyes and I have to lift my shirt up to wipe my forehead.

I shower.

I drive home.

I go to sleep and dream about the moon, about a darkness that envelopes me in the still summer air, about an age when it was all still in front of me.

Maui: Sometimes You Need a Water Break

It’s a seventy-degree day in late winter. I take my boy to the park with a friend while my baby girl stays home with her Daddy. He’d been gone all week and she just wanted to snuggle him. “Daddy, I hold you,” she demanded. After the park, my boy and I enjoy a lunch date. My husband calls and says he’s invited the family to dinner. After lunch we head to the grocery store. My boy, he behaves, he helps, he converses. I bend over the cart and inhale the top of his head.

Later the baby naps and my son plays at the neighbors while I do my mother’s hair in the basement. My husband, upstairs making homemade bruschetta garlic crostini and linguine with clam sauce. Later I make the Caesar salad my uncle taught me to make the summer I was sixteen. The salad, it has its own bowl. The one my Mother’s husband searched and searched for. His wedding gift to us. It had to be perfect, carved out of raw wood. He ended up spending $250 on it in a gallery in Santa Fe. Maybe it wasn’t a gallery. Maybe it wasn’t that fancy, but this is how I remember it.

I drink red wine on an empty stomach while shoveling bruschetta into my mouth. I wash and rip up the lettuce while my mother sits at the dining room table coloring with her eldest grandchild, my boy. The windows open, the smell of lemon, butter, garlic and clams. Soon they all arrive. Barreling through the door all noise, hugs, laughter and squealing children running down the hallways in every direction.

My week has been long and filled with excitement, exhaustion, adrenaline, sweaty workouts and a belly so empty that it enters into that realm of hunger where appetite disappears. I stay up late while my husband is out of town on business. I keep my boots on well past eleven at night, as if something is going to happen. Nothing ever happens, but I happen. Me in the kitchen, standing at the counter and writing. Always standing. Or texting a lifelong friend who is newly single after fifteen years of marriage. She makes me laugh, hard. Alone in the kitchen laughing. I go to bed at 1:00am. I wake up at 6:30 still laughing. I look in the mirror while brushing my teeth and try to shake the smile off my face. I crack up again. I think of the trip to Maui I just booked, alone with another one of my best friends. No kids. No husbands. I belly laugh again. I start dancing right there, alone in the bathroom while brushing my teeth.

I feel like I’m in a dream. This is not my life. Only a few weeks ago it felt as if my world was imploding, but it didn’t. Somehow my life did what it always does. It righted itself. But how? How did my friend’s family vacation to Hawaii turn into just her and I, alone, in an oceanfront two-bedroom suite for seven days?

I meet her at the gym and we workout, hard. We sit in the cafe and try to pretend like we feel bad that we’ve fallen head first into an impossible stroke of luck. We try to pretend like we care that our other friends with small children are jealous. We do NOT care.

This has been a hell of a long time coming. We’ve dreamt about taking a weekend away together since our eldest children were babies. It has been a topic of discussion at every Mom’s Night Out for the last five years. We imagined a road trip somewhere close by, perhaps Taos. But this, this was a goddam miracle. This is Mother Teresa shit right here.

I sit there amped up on black coffee and cardio.

I laugh like a jackal.

To those of you reading this while covered in baby spit up, you’ll get there one day. I never would have thought this was possible. Two years ago on a particularly bad day I loaded my kids into the double stroller and headed for the park. It began to rain and still I didn’t return home. I just pulled the canopy over the kids and kept pushing that stroller. I kept walking, one foot after the other as the rain fell harder. There was no way I was going back to that house. In the midst of it all I received a text message from this very friend. Her husband had come home and surprised her with a tropical family vacation. My reply? I’ll give you a clue, it was two words. [I’m not a bitter person, not at all]

But this friend of mine, the one I’m going to Maui with, she and I? We deserve this. We’ve been in the trenches these last five years, and I’m not just talking about babies and husbands, laundry and fucking Crockpot dinners. I’m talking about life, all the shit that swirls around those things. We’re running the marathon of our lives. At times the finish line seems a thousand miles away. At times you just keep your head down and watch your feet. You breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Again, and again, and again, your lungs burning.

trail

We’re still miles from the finish line, but this trip?

It’s our water break.

She and I have trudged through heaven and hell the last five years. Many of those days spent together. And when not together, always texting. Messages that at times may have read, “I think I’m seriously depressed. I might need medication.” Many that have read, “I need ideas for dinner tonight. What are you cooking?” or “Wanna meet at the park? I’ve gotta get these kids out of the house!” And one that read, “I lost the baby. Are you alone? Can I come over and talk? I feel like you’re the only one who would understand right now.” And then most recently one that read…

“So, big change of plans. I might be going to Maui alone. Wanna come?”

Yes. Yes. And fuck yes!

But how would that even be possible?

A pipe dream.

And then there was a previously scheduled interview with a possible new nanny, an interview that went well. Then a phone conversation with my husband and another text message that read simply, “After five years of motherhood I deserve this.”

He agreed.

72 days and counting, head down, just watching my feet.