To My Husband the Phoenix, I Could Never Forget

Remember that Christmas when we were really poor?

We lived in that tiny crappy apartment on the second floor. There was a tree out the balcony with a newspaper caught in its branches. It was there the day we moved in, Valentines Day.

One time Shauna and I threw shoes at it, trying to knock it out of the tree. We really wanted to know the date, how long it had been up there. We never did get it down.

Sometimes I wonder if the person living there now gazes off the balcony at a tree containing a newspaper and a shoe.

That Christmas we agreed not to buy each other anything. There was no money. On the night of the twenty-third I got stupid drunk with a couple friends. I distinctly remember because it was one of the few times that you didn’t drink. I also remember pouring the last bit of Sailor Jerry into a shot glass while sitting in the living room. Jon and I both looked down at the shot sitting on the rotted old coffee table and then back up at each other like a couple of addicts. I pulled two dollars out of my back pocket, slammed it down and slurred out, “You can have that shot or you can have two dollars.”

He took the two dollars like I knew he would.

He was poor as shit too.

drink

 

A week earlier we’d gone by his apartment to discover a fridge that contained nothing but a giant tub of margarine, two loaves of white bread and three packages of American cheese, all generic store brand.

“I like grilled cheese” he said.

And frankly when you’re twenty and practically homeless this makes total sense. His girlfriend at the time was currently between jobs and didn’t have a driver’s license. She lamented to me that her days were spent sitting in the living room, trying to get reception on an old TV while smoking cigarettes and drinking tap water.

That night after the rum was gone I made us all two boxes of macaroni and cheese. They thanked us profusely and kept apologizing saying, “Are you guys sure this is ok? We don’t want to eat all of your food.”

I don’t remember how the night ended, but I do remember that I woke up the next morning with the most severe stomach pain I had ever experienced. I tried to wake you and told you it felt like I needed medical attention, or at the very least could you go to the store and get me some Pepto and Gatorade.

You refused.

You slept another three hours.

I was sure I was dying. Eventually you went to the store. But I never ventured out of that apartment until Christmas Day.

Christmas morning, over coffee and raspberry Toaster Pastries (a splurge) you gave me a silver bracelet with tiny little chip diamonds and a heart on it. It had a locking clasp and was totally not my style. But it was so very sweet, so unlike you to be romantic. I felt horrible that I hadn’t gotten you anything.

bracelet

 

Later we drove downtown to the little apartment my father and brother lived in at the time. If I remember correctly, he had cooked a nice roast. I could only stomach a few bites. I was still in quite of bit of pain.

I gave my brother a Beavis & Butthead DVD set I’d ordered off an infomercial. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought he’d see it and be nostalgic, remembering all the times we watched it together. But in the moment of him unwrapping it I realized what a shitty gift it really was. No one in that room had much at the time. I sat there wishing I had given him something nice, something that would have brought him actual joy, something useful. I was left with a deep sadness that permeated everything about that particular Christmas. He gave us a set of kitchen knives and some floor mats for your ’92 Chevy Blazer, the one with the broken driver’s side door.

We were married ten months later.

That was a lifetime ago.

Yesterday our son found the bracelet and brought it to me saying, “Look Mama, it has a heart on it because I love you!” Later I made him a sandwich using those same kitchen knives.

The memories are vivid to me, tangible. There have been times when I couldn’t move past them. For you the past just vanishes. We have discussed this, your lack of long-term memory.

Everyday you awake like the Phoenix.

You rise from the ashes and look upon me with new eyes, upon yourself. How I wish I had that power, but this photographic memory is a curse.

My past always feels present.

The children have helped because I’m too busy to dwell. But in the tiny flickers of stillness it’s there. I am there, the old me. The old you. And then the babies are there too. Their cherub faces and suckling mouths, their balled up fists and breathy first sounds. It’s cruel how well I can still see them, smell them, hear them. The memories all blend together, the booze, the fights, then the calm, the joy, the babies. Those beautiful babies, how they’ve destroyed me.

kids

They killed me.

I died and was born again, left with my heart beating outside of my chest.

It’s ok that you forget. It keeps you moving forward, always forward. That’s how this works. I remember for the both of us. Someone will ask you a question and you’ll turn to me and say, “When was that?” When I answer you don’t argue. You take it as the truth because you know it is. On the rare occasion that you say, “Wait, are you sure? Because I thought…” I’ll reply, “Do you really want to do this with me?”

You stop, you concede.

It’s a joke I often tell people. The way our marriage works is that you remember nothing, and I forgive everything. It’s a joke, but it’s true.

You awake everyday and see me anew. You give me a fresh start. I awake and I see every incarnation of you.

You asleep in my arms at sixteen with your perfect lips and long eyelashes.

You at twenty with the ponytail, combat boots and whiskey breath.

You at twenty-three headed off to work, early in the morning wearing a tie and khakis.

You at twenty-five making cold calls out of a phone book in the garage of our first house.

You at twenty-nine crying (finally) while you look upon the face of your newborn son.

You at thirty, on your knees for days installing the hardwood floors in our big new house.

You at thirty-three with those tired eyes, and the way you still look at me.

 

I remember them all. I love them all.

The Winter of My Discontent: What I’ve Been Up To

You ever feel like you’re just gliding through?

Everything’s going smoothly. And so I ask myself, “Wait, is it going too smoothly?” And my self replies, “Oh no, we’re not doing that shit. That fatalistic shit’s too good so shit’s going to go bad nonsense. You’re too old for that.” So I just relax and cruise through with my currently healthy kids and husband who’s home more during the slow season.

And dammit if he’s not really helpful when he’s not tired from working seventy hour weeks. He’s playing board games with the kids and having them help make homemade pasta. He’s researching Lego pirate ships online. He’s making waffles from scratch after dinner. He’s forcing everyone to go sledding. I’m arguing that it’s too cold, that there’s not enough snow. I end up having a fantastic time.

After the kids are in bed I have a glass of wine. Later in the dark I reach across the bed and stroke his winter beard and say, “I love you. Thank you for being such a good Daddy.”

In the slow pace of winter I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’ve gained weight. I’ve been letting the kids watch more TV than usual. I started out feeding them only organic food and now McDonald’s has worked its way into their vocabulary.

I remind myself it’s December.

After the holidays we’ll get our shit together, or rather, I’ll get my shit together, I tell myself.

My brother comes to dinner and asks, “So what have you been up to?”

My mind goes blank.

I know I’ve been doing things, all the things. Preschool drop off, mixing pureed spinach into the boxed macaroni so I feel less guilty, I’m at the gym, I’m at Target again, I’m drinking Starbucks in my minivan, I’m eating far too much hard salami and cheese, I’m cursing how the dirt from the car rubs onto my pants, I’m changing Lids into her leo at ballet, I’m shuttling Oz to gymnastics on Saturday, how is it Saturday again already? I’m hating winter, I’m doing the scary yell while the kids whine, I’m realizing it’s 3:30 and I have no idea what to feed anyone for dinner, I’m feeling bloated and useless, I’m realizing my two-year-old has learned the F word, I’m screwing around on my phone while the kitchen sits filthy.

But this is not the answer to “What have you been up to?” So I just say, “I don’t know really. The usual stuff.”

I’m wishing I had my own income. My husband sits there with his sexy beard and his mad sledding skills with his pockets full of money. But it’s his money. He is unconsciously smug in his financial contentment. Technically his money is “ours” but I want my own. I want to feel that contentment again. I wonder how the power balance would shift if I won the Pulitzer. I wonder how J.K. Rowling feels sitting high atop her game. I wish he was a little scared by my hot body, by my ability to support myself, but he’s not because I don’t have either of those things. If I complain about anything or want to “check-in” on our marriage he obliges me by listening and replies, “Hey, things are great. We’re good. The business is doing great. The kids are gorgeous.”

“Damn it, they really are gorgeous, right?” I’ll reply.

Conversation over. Mentioning how cute our kids are will end pretty much any argument or discussion. Check and mate.

Well played sir, well played.

But I do this. Every few months I feel the need to check-in. He does not have this same desire. I’ve come to realize it’s not the marriage that makes me antsy. It’s me. It’s my utter lack of direction outside of the kids. The clock, it ticks. Soon the little one will be in preschool and I’m expected to do something with my time, once I have time again.

Oh, and I feel old as fuck. Have I mentioned that? I know dropping weight would make me feel younger. I lost seventy-five pounds in a year once. I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t feel amazing. I was swift like a fucking ninja. Running and jumping over shit just because I could.

finger_skinny

Like a fucking mountain ninja.

I could sit here and tell you I care about that, about how I look, about being like a ninja. And I do, but in my mind there’s part of me that will always be the old lady doling out advice to young pretty little things. This has always been my personality. It’s easier to drink wine in front of the TV, it’s easier to be invisible to all the white boys who don’t know what to do with all that ass.

[I don’t do vapid.]

It’s always been easier.

Easier to spend his money and convince myself that it’s ours because marriage says so, because the law says so, because I’m the mother of his children dammit!

But I want my own shit. This is the problem with staying home. Perhaps my goal for 2016 should be to get paid to write, or finally decide what to go to grad school for.

Oh yeah, and lose some weight. You know, because America hates fat women and empty resolutions are fun.

So the next time someone asks what I’ve been up to I’m going to say, “You know, just fuckin’ hustlin.”

But you’ll know what I mean…

Me Without You: Marriage is a Bipolar Bitch

My twenty-four-year-old cousin is impossibly gorgeous. She has a promising career, and lives with her two friends. They are all single and go out together most weekends. On a recent family trip I told her how lucky she was. She replied, “Oh, I know! It’s so awesome.” Then I said, “That’s so great. Do that for as long as you can.” And then I leaned in and whispered, “Or you know, just do that forever.”

She is young.

She doesn’t know.

She laughed and nodded as if she did. I’m sure she walked away thinking, “Wow, Annie must be really unhappy in her life.”

She would be correct, but also dead wrong. This is the contradiction of being married with kids. It’s awful and insanely beautiful all at once. This is impossible to comprehend until you experience it. There are days where the only thing that gets me through are the daydreams I have about being fifty-five and renting an apartment, in Paris, alone. At the same time, I’ve never been this happy in my entire life. I have never felt this amount of joy on a daily basis. I cry happy tears often. The birth of my first child forever removed my ‘filter’ when it came to really feeling the beauty.

Parenting is a crazy bipolar bitch.

As for the marriage part of this equation:

My husband and I recently celebrated twelve years of marriage and sixteen years together. I’m thankful that we’ve grown together over the years, and not apart. That may sound cliché but you have to understand.

I met him before he had facial hair.

I want you to let that sink in for a minute.

If your twenties are the decade when you discover who you are, well, I did that with another person. All day, every day. I knew who I was before, and that girl is still with me. But she is just that, a girl. That girl still has very strong opinions about the way I’m living my life. Sometimes I miss that girl. Sometimes I argue with her. I have to tell her she is only sixteen and has no idea what the hell she is talking about.

There is so much of me that is because of him. It is this that makes it hard to dissect my true self. To remove the layers of the years spent together. So much of who I am is because of all we’ve shared. Just the sheer volume of hours spent together. The way I cook Italian food, or view innovation, my love of Pink Floyd, mafia movies, whiskey, the music of John Mayall, and my intimate understanding of the island of Manhattan. A place I never lived, but feel as if I did.

Then there are the countless things we learned together. We learned how to be adults. We discovered real estate together. We learned bit by bit how to build a home, figuratively and literally. We learned how to start businesses, register for trade names, buy liability insurance, build a client base and apply for a patent. Shit, I even taught him how to drive a car. We don’t argue about money the way many couples do. We plant seeds, we harvest.

Both of us are intertwined in a way only teenagers in love can be. Adult love still leaves room for self.

We didn’t have that luxury.

Both of us came from a place that left us with the deep desire to build something real, something happy. Both of us desperately searching for family. My husband grew up the only child of a single mother in NYC. When I asked how he envisioned his future when he was a kid he said, “Wife, kids, dog, white picket fence, because that’s what I saw in every movie and TV show.”

We don’t want a family together. We want a dynasty, an empire.

I know a lot of women that use the phrase, “He won’t let me . .  .” in reference to their husband when it comes to making a purchase, hiring a cleaning lady or babysitter when things are stressful. At our house I’m Boss Lady. “It’s your world babe,” he says, “I get up everyday and do work for you. It’s all for you.”  I’m fully aware of how lucky I am.

I am so damn thankful for him.

But my nature is solitary. I need time alone to regroup. To convene with myself.

What is left of me.

Marriage is a warm winter coat. It envelopes you. It is a comfort when the world grows cold. But at times the coat grows hot and itchy. At times I have wanted to take it off, not in order to try on another coat but rather to walk unencumbered, without it.

It is a desire to know me, without him.

I’m not alone in this feeling. In the last year pretty much every married woman I’m friends with has admitted to feelings of discontent within their marriage. I have friends that had to take some time away. I have friends that have had to question “Is this feeling us? Is it the marriage, or is it me?” My friends who are mothers wonder if it’s just the stress of motherhood, that by the end of the day they have nothing left to give. They just want to be alone.

My friends without children speak of looking at their spouse and asking the question, “If I met you today, would I be attracted to you?” And like me, many of them have wondered, “Who am I without you?”

This is the thing with marriage. You’re accountable to someone else. Plain and simple. Children increase this feeling ten fold.

My cousin, the twenty-four-year-old, she wants a family one day. She wants to fall in love and have children. I always wanted it too. I hope she gets to one day.

I wish I had some neat and tidy way to wrap this up. Some uplifting words about marriage and family, about gratitude and sticking it out through the rough patches. I will tell you, for me personally (as the child of divorced parents) there are few circumstances that would result in the end of my marriage. I will tell you that American society is an individualistic one.

Marriage is not for the individual.

I will tell you that my generation often suffers from the entitlement of “If this isn’t fun then why do it?”

So, here is how I’ll wrap this up for you:

When my husband and I were young and first dating we discovered we both had a Rolling Stones song stuck in our heads. We couldn’t remember if we’d been listening to it. Was it possible we both randomly had the same song running through our minds? Surely, it must have played on the radio in the car and we just couldn’t remember. And then we went to see my Mom. She was folding laundry, and singing the same song. It was early on in our relationship, right as we were falling in love. We took it as a sign. Through the years there are times when the song will pop back into my head at just the right time.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Yeah baby, you get what you need.

wedding