Friday, September 14, 2018

I Can't Write Now

Every writer knows what this is.  The inevitable feeling that there are no unique ideas in your head.  The dreaded Writer’s Block.  I’m currently in such a place. 

I have three different blog posts in various stages of completion but can’t seem to finish any of them.  It’s just not flowing.  It’s not right.  And I can’t get it right. 

One is about childhood playthings.  Inspired by a song I heard, which immediately transported me back to the 70’s, I thought it would be a great subject.  It’s done.  It should be ready to post.  But it’s just not right.  Not just yet.  I heard the same song about a week ago and thought “Hey!  That piece needs to go in a different direction and I know just what to do with it!”, but I didn’t have time last week to do any writing (retirement is rough, ya’ll.)  And now, I don’t remember what direction I wanted to take it.

Another is about the simile between a fresh coat of paint and changes in one’s life or starting over or fresh perspectives.  As you can see, I really don’t know what it’s about.  We began remodeling our home about a year ago and just this past weekend, we painted another room.  I thought maybe I’d find the inspiration to finish this post.  But nope. 

And then, I have one in the works about Keith.  Part 3 of my failed marriage trilogy (only … as you know … this one’s alive and well).  You would think it would be easy, that the words would flow directly onto the page.  But they’re not.  It’s not easy.  It’s not easy to put into words what this man means to me.  And because it’s ongoing (and I thank God every day for that!), it’s kinda hard to write just one post on the subject.

I know I’m not alone in slamming into the proverbial creative wall.  I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.  But damn.  It’s hard.  I want to write and I can’t write.  So what am I doing?  Writing about not being able to write! 

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame) talks of being inspired.  And creating.  And writing.  And how creativity leaves you.  And returns.  She even talks of an idea leaving her – an idea for a book she had – and landing in someone else’s head – someone who finished the book years later.  Weird, right?  I’m trying fiercely to rely on her words and be okay with the fact that right now, my ideas and my words have seemingly escaped me.  Heaven forbid, though, that my thoughts end up in someone else’s head.  Scary.

Why not pick up on one of the half dozen topics I have written down to someday include in my blog?   Topics I think would be fun.  And make for enjoyable reading.  Topics that would allow me to create.  Because I’m stubborn.  That’s why.  Because I want to finish one of the posts I’ve already started.  And because of this stupid thing called Writer’s Block.

I miss my blog.  I miss seeing the bright colors on the home page.  The picture I took in a tea house in China.  And the stock picture of the Moroccan Tagines (thanks Ana for telling me exactly what those brightly colored pots are!).  And I miss …. Writing.

Yet, I know it will return.

When I’m not so busy.  When I’m not feeling so pressured … about life and about writing.  When the mood hits me just right.  When I’ve slept well.  Or maybe when I’m exhausted.

It will return.  Hopefully in the not-so-distant future.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Following Hemingway

My husband and I LOVE to travel.  And yes, we’re lucky.  Lucky to be able to travel.  But even more lucky to open up our world and get out of the “Stone Oak bubble”.  To experience other cultures and other people.  To eat different foods (even if they are questionable).  To peek into history and walk the same path as others have before.  And sometimes, it helps us realize that home is truly sweet.

Most recently, we followed Hemingway from Miami to Key West to Havana (and the Caribbean in between).  Now, I’m not a big fan of Hemingway’s by any means, so it’s not like this was the point of our trip.  It just so happens that our ultimate destination of Havana happened to be among his favorites and the points that led us there were too.

The city of Miami.  Vibrant.  Colorful.  Buzzing.  Loud.  Hot (both figuratively and literally).  This was the start of our journey.

South Beach.  Where exposed skin is pervasive; ask Keith about the multitude of thong-wearing and topless sun-bathing women.  Where adults cruised Ocean Drive in their Ferraris, Rolls Royce’s, Bentleys and such.  Where the tropical humidity was not a good thing when coupled with a woman’s hot flashes.  Where every bar has Happy Hour, where you can get 2 for 1 drinks of the 56 oz. variety (and which we did on more than one occasion).  Where Latin music infuses the streets.  Where you hear a variety of languages spoken, some of which you can’t even identify.  It’s that kind of place.  

And apparently Hemingway liked Miami.

After a couple of days on South Beach (both on the beach and touring the Art Deco district), we decided we wanted to see a little more of Miami.  First, we toured the city by bus, with a stop in Little Havana.  Here, we watched cigars being hand-rolled, enjoyed spicy chicken empanadas and Cuban (i.e., mango) smoothies.  I’m not a smoker by any means, but I must admit, the smell of that shop was almost as delicious as the empanadas.  By boat, we cruised past houses currently and formerly owned by the rich and famous, with names like Shakira, Ricky Martin, Al Pacino, Will Smith, and Beyonce on the tax rolls.

Cruising is probably Keith’s favorite way to travel.  You unpack once, and you visit multiple cities.  I must admit, it’s not half-bad.  On day 5, we bid Miami adieu and embarked on a 5-night Caribbean journey aboard Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas.

Having made certain lifestyle changes (of the dietary variety) less than a year ago, we knew this would be a challenge.  Not only with the never-ending buffet that’s available 20 hours out of every day, but in the dining room too; the bread is plentiful, and you can order any number of appetizers, entrees and desserts.  All in all, I’d say we didn’t do too bad.  We indulged, yes (who can say no to ice cream and cookies?), but we tried to stay reasonable, while still enjoying ourselves.

Our first port of call:  Key West.  I visited Key West at the age of 13 and cannot say I remember much about it except for the drive to get there (on all the bridges, over all the water).  As an adult, I found it far less exciting than anything I might’ve felt as a teenager.  Admittedly, that is solely because of the heat and humidity (again) that resulted in my having a raging headache that I could not get rid of, no matter how many pills I managed to get down my throat.

There is no shortage of touristy-type of things to see and do and buy in Key West. 

We opted for a hop-on/hop-off trolley tour of the island, but we only hopped off once, to see The Little White House.  Recommended by a friend, we both enjoyed this tour of former naval commandant housing, which appealed to President Truman and which he often visited during and after his term as President.  The house is filled with both original and replicated furniture from the 1950s and was extremely charming.  As were many of the homes on Key West.

Our trolley tour also took us past Ernest Hemingway’s house, home of the 7-toed cats.  We also passed several famous (or … infamous?) bars along the way and about 2,001 souvenir shops.    

The heat, humidity and my headache got the best of me and it was everything I could do not to spout off to the trolley driver (whose incessant chatter became rather annoying), the drunk woman up front who wanted to get off at Stop 9, when we were approaching Stop 10 (pay attention!), or the bickering couple from the northeast who sat directly behind us and who, based on the husband’s comments, appeared to have never gotten out from under their own roof.  For example, this exchange actually took place:

HIM:  Look!  A Taco Bell!  Take a picture!

HER:  Yes, they have Taco Bells here too, Harold.

One of the local tour guides suggested food and drinks at Two Friends Patio Bar and we were not disappointed.  We opted for shrimp dinners (a Cajun shimp wrap for Keith and a shrimp salad sandwich for me).  The Pina Coladas with Meyer’s Dark Rum floaters were divine.  It turns out I only needed food to erase my splitting headache.  Or maybe alcohol. 

Key West boasts the Southernmost Point in the Continental US – 90 miles to Cuba, they say.  It’s a quick overnight where nautical miles are concerned. 

That night, we enjoyed dinner in the ship’s specialty restaurant, Chops Grille.  Steaks, grilled asparagus, a bottle of their finest Malbec, and the most amazing key lime meringue pie I will probably ever eat.  Afterwards, hand in hand, we strolled Deck 6.  The sky and the water dark as ink, except for the stars and the satellites dotting the night sky.  As the lights of Key West diminished behind us, I saw a shooting star and made a wish.

After our departure from Key West, the ship was filled with Latin music.  In every venue where alcohol was being served, the sounds of bongos and trumpets were prevalent.  It was a nice precursor to our arrival in Havana the next morning. 

The ship was abuzz as we entered Havana’s port.  To the left, one of the city’s forts, El Morro, complete with a lighthouse, and to the right, the city’s skyline.

We waited patiently as the computers in the immigration and customs building had gone down and they wouldn’t clear the ship until they could make things right.  Finally, we joined the other 998 passengers and the 1000 passengers from another ship which had just arrived and proceeded through customs and immigration.

Paperwork.  Paperwork.  And more paperwork.  This is vacation.  If you wish to visit Cuba. 

Tourist VISAs are required and were handled largely by the ship.  When I say this, I simply mean, they handed the paperwork to us to fill out and charged us $75 each for the pleasure.  We also had to complete paperwork certifying what we would be doing in Havana and were told to hold onto this for five years, lest we’re ever asked what we did while in country.  They could’ve been pulling our proverbial legs, but you never know.

Foreign credit cards are not accepted here and US Dollars may or may not be accepted, so exchanging money was necessary.  The thing about it is, you don’t want to exchange too much because not only does the Cuban government take about 13% right off the top in the exchange (when exchanging US Dollars – it’s much less if using other forms of currency, e.g., the Euro), but it takes another 13% if you want to re-convert to US Dollars. 

Additionally, there are two types of Cuban pesos – one used by the locals, the Peso Cubano, or CUP (they have faces of Cuba’s leaders) and one used by tourists, the Peso Convertible, or CUC (pictures of historical landmarks).

1 CUC = $~1 USD = 25 CUP

In town, you really have to be careful and ask whether prices quoted are CUC or CUP (and that you get the correct currency back in change).

Because of this, I didn’t want to exchange any more than we had to.  I asked someone who worked one of the gift shops in the port terminal, the average cost of a meal in town.  In return, I received a blank stare.  For this is not something the locals can (afford) to do.  My heart hurt just a little.

Our first shore excursion introduced us to the city of Havana.  As the bus exited the cruise terminal, we got our first close-up look into the heart of Old Towne, Plaza Veija.  And driving past it, were several early model cars.  As if the tour guide were the director and we were her choir, we collectively ooh’d and aah’d on que as we were transported back in time. 

Between Old Towne and New Havana, we saw several major landmarks. We exited the bus and saw a couple of the landmarks up-close:  The Christ (think of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer), El Morro and Revolution Square (where Fidel Castro spoke to the masses).

We finished our tour at the local market, where private vendors sold a multitude of goodies to take back home.  The vendors were welcoming.  A polite "No thank you" and they smiled politely in return.  If you showed interest in something, they were quick to bargain.  And bargaining didn't require you to say a word; if they sensed any amount of hesitancy on your part, they started dropping the price!
As the rain moved in, we decided to return to the ship for a breather and to cool down a bit.  Only it didn’t help to cool things down so much as to only make it more humid. 

After the rain subsided, we headed back into town.  We wandered the streets, popping into various shops and looking at menus to see what we might fancy for dinner. Along the way, puddles filled the myriad of potholes that punctured the cobblestone and un-paved streets.  

It was easy to see how grand the city once was; influenced by Spanish architecture, the tall buildings with rounded corners and ornate windows and balconies are now falling into disrepair.  Literally, they are crumbling to the ground.  And my heart hurt just a little more.

We stumbled onto a bar with crowds tumbling into the street, the sounds of live music filling the square as the doors opened and closed.  All the guests were sipping grapefruit infused daiquiris; a bust of one Ernest Hemingway sat in the corner.  Unbeknownst to us, we had happened upon one of his old (and maybe favorite) haunts, El Floridita.  The crowd was thrilled when the 5-piece band played the song “Havana”.  We started with the famed daiquiri at a cost of 6 CUC each.  We each had a Cubano, because … why not?  We finished with a local beer at a cost of 4.50 CUC each.

When the band packed up their guitars and violins, we walked to the bar (literally) next door and enjoyed the same local beer for 1.50 CUC each.  Sure, El Floridita was fun, but I’d much rather pay 1.50 for a beer than 4.50.

As we stood admiring the architecture of the square, someone approached us in the “pssst … hey … you want to buy some cigars?” kind of way and much to my surprise, my husband followed him.  We struck a deal for a case of Cubans under a low wattage lamp in the man’s home.

With rain drops falling again, and the promise of more to come (if the lightning in the sky was any indication), we made our way back to the ship for the evening.

The next morning, we exchanged more money and made our way into town for more sightseeing and in my case, picture-taking.  Inspired by my sister’s earlier works of art (some of which were shot in Havana), I set out to find beauty amongst the rubble.

After lunch, we embarked on our second shore excursion:  a Hemingway pub crawl and walking tour through Old Towne. We start at where else, but El Floridita.  If I thought happy hour the night before was crazy, I was mistaken.  THIS was madness.  I’m not sure if there is such a thing as fire codes in Havana, but if there are, I’m quite certain the place was in violation at that very moment.  Nevertheless, the daquiris were cold and even tastier than the night before. 

Our next stop was El Bodeguita, Hemingway’s favorite place to score up a refreshing mojito.  With crowds spilling into the street (the bar itself no bigger than a storage room), we tried to find a sliver of shade in which to enjoy the minty, sugary concoction as the brutal sun beat down on those of us not able to fit into the bar. 

The “pub crawl” version complete, we finished our walking tour a short while later, having traversed a small portion of Old Towne, visiting churches, glimpsing into historic homes, admiring government buildings and resting in beautiful parks. 

We finished our time in Havana wandering the streets, looking for nooks and crannies which we had not yet discovered.  We stopped at one of the local breweries, Factoria Plaza Vieja, and enjoyed a drink, some snacks (grilled shrimp, brown rice and black beans) and a cigar.  Here, a little boy no older than 5, stood silently at our table, watching our every move.  He moved from one side to the other, finally tapping me on the arm and saying something in Spanish I didn’t quite understand (I understood “Englis”, but that was it).  I told him (in Spanish) that I spoke very little Spanish and asked if he spoke English.  He shook his head “no” and disappeared.

Satisfied that we had seen all that Old Towne had to offer, we made our way back to the ship before departing at 8:00 p.m..

As we reflected on our visit to Havana, we agreed the city is much like some of the poorest areas you might have seen in Mexico (yet different because of what once was).  Yes, they have free medical and free (higher) education, but what good are those if a government employee (someone who works in a government-owned business, which is most of the businesses there), earning $20-$30 CUC PER MONTH can’t even afford aspirin or toothpaste?  And even if they could afford it, I suspect it might be difficult to find in the government-run grocery stores, the shelves of which were mostly empty.  Can non-government employees really cover the cost of repairing the architecturally un-sound buildings which are crumbling from the top down, when they’re earning $200-$400 CUC PER MONTH? 

It breaks your heart.

In hindsight, I wish I would’ve done a little more research before going, because I would’ve liked to have taken something to the locals (toothpaste and aspirin maybe).  

That said, we found the people to be happy.  And grateful to any foreigner who might help their economy in some small way.

We were told that after incident at the US Embassy there, most, if not all the Embassy workers have left.  I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the country is closed to US visitors again.

 As we departed Havana, we lounged on the stern of the ship, smoking a cigar as we glided past El Morro, its lighthouse showing the way to the sea, and the lights of the city flickering to life.  

Cars on the Malecon honked as we left, I imagine not only to say “adios”, but to say, “thanks for stopping by”.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lift Like A Girl

In the spring of my 47th year, I was done fighting a losing battle:  I could not rid my body of the 10 pounds menopause had dealt me.  I told my ever-so-supportive husband that I required something drastic.  "CrossFit", I said, "is drastic, right?"
The two of us (because that’s exactly how supportive he is!) signed up for CrossFit 101 at a box near our home (yes, you read that right – a ‘CrossFit BOX’ – they are NOT gyms). 
CrossFit 101 consisted of four pain-inducing one-hour classes during which we would learn how to properly complete the basic movements that make up CrossFit.    
We squatted, we lifted heavy things, we ran (I despise running!), he did pull-ups, I attempted pull-ups, we did sit-ups, he ran some more, I ran a little more and walked a lot, and we lifted more heavy things. 

After the end of the first class, we slowly made our way to the car.  I took one step off the curb and my legs buckled beneath me – Keith grabbed my sweat-soaked t-shirt to keep me from face-planting into oncoming traffic! 
And the next night, we returned for more!
After our third class, I was convinced we should invest in Bengay or Aspercreme.  I knew exactly how Frankenstein felt, unable to bend my knees when walking, an open accessible bathroom stall cause for celebration (lest I have to lower myself onto the toilet without the aid of hand rails)!  And forget bending over to pick up a dropped item (I’m old – I drop things); I’m quite sure I looked like a newborn giraffe attempting to stand up, with legs splayed outward. 
And yet we returned for more.
The challenges were plentiful, not just in completing the workouts, but in learning a second language.  WOD, EMOM, RX, AMRAP, PR, to name just a few of the acronyms displayed on the whiteboard.  Want to become proficient in CrossFit lingo?  Read on …
While refusing to look at the posted WOD (Workout of the Day) (because honestly, I probably wouldn’t have gone had I seen running or burpees on the menu), I made my way to the box three days/week.  Keith joined me occasionally, but fresh from back surgery and with a fear that he would grind down what little cartilage remained in his knees, he relegated himself to “official Aspercreme applicator”.
One night, I was only one of two athletes (yes, I was now officially calling myself an athlete) who showed for class.  My coach carefully walked me through the movement, providing guidance on what to do and what not to do when lifting heavy things.  Shoelaces under the bar, hook grip, straight back, squeeze your traps together, don’t yank the bar, inhale and … LIFT.  I dead lifted a whopping 130 pounds!  Two days later, I received a congratulatory card from my box, saying they were so proud of me and my new PR.  I didn’t even know what a PR was!
And there were friendships formed.  Young?  Old?  In shape or out?  When you struggle through a WOD together, it’s inevitable that you bond with one another. 
You cheer for the person who’s still working long after everyone else has finished (that’s usually me, by the way).  Because you KNOW how hard it is.  You know the fight.  You want them to feel that sense of accomplishment when they’re laid out on the floor, gasping for air, but knowing they’ve left every drop of sweat their body could produce on the floor, and that they finished.  They finished.   
Just nine months after falling in love with CF, there was a CLOSED sign posted on the door of my box.  The box emptied of the equipment I’d come to love and to loathe.  Barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, rowing machines, slam balls, the rig where I attempted my pull-ups.  Gone.  Just Gone. 
I dropped in to a few boxes here and there, trying to maintain some form of a workout regime while looking for a place to call home.  Each CF box has its own character; it’s kinda like finding a life partner:  you’ll know when you find the right one.  And I did.  Eventually.
Not long after I found my new home, I was issued my CF nickname.  Actually, I found myself in a bit of an identity crisis as I was given two:  half of the coaches called me “Hook ‘Em” (because of my Longhorn tattoo) and the other half called me “Sharon Stone” (because the owner is an 80’s fanatic – not because I was being just too damn provocative).  Not all boxes do the nickname thing – this is just our box’s way of allowing us to break away from our lives and whatever burdens we might be carrying around that day, if even for an hour.  Eventually, Hook ‘Em was no more and Sharon Stone stuck.  I’ve even adorned some of my gear with that name.
In my new box, more reps (repetitions) were achieved when the workout called for an AMRAP = As Many Rounds As Possible. 
Fist bumps all around when we breathlessly completed an EMOM = Every Minute on the Minute (for example, complete ‘x’ number of pull-ups every minute on the minute). 
There were high fives whenever someone RX’d a workout when they might not have done so previously (RX = completing the workout ‘as prescribed’ as opposed to modifying it or scaling it – the way I normally do). 
And new PRs (that’s a Personal Record) were made (my deadlift PR is now 217!  Can you believe it????) 

But more importantly, in this place, new friendships were formed.  Friends who push me to be the best athlete I can be.  Friends who cheer my accomplishments and whose accomplishments I cheer.  Friends who you might grab a drink with, go to a movie with, enjoy a spa day with, or have lunch with after a particularly grueling workout.  

Friends who celebrate birthdays together (complete with cake!  There’s always cake!) and who do Girls Night Outs together.  Friends who, after your home gets burglarized, invite you over for a BBQ to help you get your mind off of things.  And friends with whom you share your thoughts and fears, who listen and pray for you when the going gets tough. 
THIS is Community.  THIS is Family.  THIS is CrossFit.
My box is filled with talented athletes.  Those who I stand in awe of when I should be lifting my barbell over my head but am stopping to catch my breath instead.  They are business owners.  And stay-at-home moms.  They are students.  And military service members. 
In other boxes around the world, there are elite athletes that compete for prize money, those whose job it is to CrossFit (how lucky are THEY?????).  And they are AMAZING!  But for me, it’s really about my own self-improvement.  Not just whether I can run faster, lift heavier, or achieve a gymnastics movement I was previously unable to get (I still don’t have my pull-ups, but I’m working on them!), but more notably, it’s about how it’s changed me, as a person.
Before I retired, CF gave me an outlet for the stress I felt at work day in and day out.  It allowed me to focus on something other than the now 120 staff I was responsible for.  And it often provided me a sense of accomplishment when there were days with no accomplishments to speak of at the office.  Heck!  Showing up to the box was an accomplishment!  My mind is clearer.  I’m able to make decisions and make them quicker (previously not always one of my strong suits).  My confidence is greater.  My mental toughness, tougher.  And I’m happier.  Yes, believe it or not, I’m happier after I’ve put my body through hell and am happy to be breathing and upright at the end of class.
Now you might be wondering whether I was ever able to get rid of those pesky 10 pounds.  The short answer is no.  I lost a few inches.  I gained some muscle.  And physically, yes, I’m stronger.  When we helped my son move into his 3rd floor apartment, without the benefit of an elevator, I finally sat down to take a break after 4 or so hours of hefting boxes and furniture up those three flights, my stamina and endurance much-improved. 
It wasn’t until my cholesterol was so high, and I was threatened with having to take meds to reduce it, that my husband and I made some lifestyle changes that did result in the loss of those 10 pounds (and more!), along with reducing my cholesterol by a staggering 50 points in six months’ time.  And now, you can SEE the muscles I’ve gained over the last 5+ years, so says my massage therapist! 
Do I still get sore after a workout?  Absolutely!  Do I ever feel like Frankenstein?  Usually only after I’ve been away from the box for a lengthy period of time.  But now, I welcome that feeling, I crave that feeling!  Not that I’ve suddenly become a masochist, but I know the benefits that come from that pain. 
And I’m quite certain those “elite athletes” get sore too (if pictures of them in ice baths – just like other pro athletes – are any indication). 
They, along with hundreds of thousands of CrossFitters around the world (myself included) enter competition season in February with what is affectionately known in our world as the CrossFit Open.  The top-ranked men, women and teams from The Open move on to Regional competition.  From there, the fittest athletes are sent to the CrossFit Games and “The Fittest on Earth” are crowned.
As I prepare for summer camp … I mean … volunteering at The Games (for the second time), I can hardly contain my excitement.  The fittest crowd and the fittest volunteers on earth cheering on the fittest athletes on earth.  And hey!  If my assignment is to keep my eyes on my favorite athletes for the duration of the event, so much the better!
This is my geekdom. 
To watch the best of the best in my chosen sport, live and in person.  
To watch their wheels turning as their mental strength is put to the test as well (they often don’t know what the next WOD will be until shortly before they take the competition floor).  
To watch them grind out THREE WODs EACH DAY FOR FOUR DAYS, WODs which are a helluva lot more strenuous than the little one-hour class I now go to five times/week. 
I’m never going to be a “Games athlete”.  But that’s the thing about CrossFit.  You don’t have to be in shape to start CrossFit.  You don’t have to have been a current or even a former athlete to become one.  You’re never too old to start.  Conversely, you’re never too young (there are CrossFit Kids classes too!)  You don’t have to be the first to finish.  Or the one who completes the most reps.  Or the one to lift the heaviest weight. 
You just have to have the heart and the desire to be a better you.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Leaps & Bounds

Despite the horrific experience that was my first marriage, I would not be deterred from getting my happily ever after.  Read:  I was kinda desperate to find The One.  I searched far and wide, sometimes ... correction ... usually looking in all the wrong places.  And some 14 years later, I found my next project … er … husband.

One would think I would’ve learned my lesson the first time around:  men cannot be saved, nor can they be changed.  Part Two of my love story strongly resembled Part One.  Only this time, it was not the man who needed saving (much), but rather his two young daughters.

We met at a 4th of July party.  On July 5th, he called and asked for a first date.

I was quite surprised, when, after dating a mere nine months, he suggested we look at engagement rings.  We then jetted off to Florida where he proposed to me in front of Cinderella’s Castle.  Truly, I thought, my fairy tale was coming true. 

About a month before the wedding, the wheels started to come off.  I started seeing glimpses of the “real” Jerry.  Glimpses of husband #1 and ideals which didn’t align with my own.  He wrote it off as cold feet and vowed to be better.  The rush to the altar, I (now) believe, his attempt to tie me down before I fully realized what I was getting myself into. 

With invitations sent and non-refundable deposits paid, I was transformed into my idea of Cinderella and we stood up before family and friends and said “I Do”.

The best game of charades ever played continued until about three months into our marriage.  At this point, I think he thought, there was no turning back.  You know, for better or worse - better for him, worse for me.

He was possessive, controlling, his personal views on child-rearing and household cleanliness so very different from my own; I mean … I like Mickey Mouse and all, but having mice running about in my home?  Not a fan. 

Where parenting was concerned, I think he was compensating for having divorced their mother.  Prior to our relationship, the girls had not met a single vegetable that they liked nor had they met a trash can they liked as it was not uncommon for candy wrappers and the like to be discarded wherever they stood. I had hoped to provide them with some structure and introduce them to some food options other than the only two food groups with which they were accustomed:  macaroni and cheese.

He stalked me at work, turning ugly and angry when I didn’t answer my (desk) phone (never mind the fact that I was often in meetings or assisting my manager); from my manager’s office, I could hear my phone ringing – one call after another after another – until she suggested I go answer the damn thing. 

He cyber-stalked me (before that was a thing) by following along on posts I made on a Disney-related message board (I mean REALLY?   What shady things could I possibly get into on a Disney-related board???). 

Knowing my dislike for smoking, he initially hid from me that he was a smoker, then vowed to quit when I made it clear that was a deal breaker.  A few months into the marriage, I wondered why he sounded so panicked to get home before I did when I agreed to fire up the grill for dinner.  Imagine my surprise when I went to light the coals only to find about a whole pack worth of cigarette butts in the grill.

We took the kids to Disney World and he started a fight with me there.  Knowing full-well that husband #1’s preferred means of emotional abuse was threatening to leave, he threatened to go home (while leaving his girls with me to finish out the vacation).  I don’t even remember what the argument was over, but I know that for as much as I loved Disney World, I couldn’t bring myself to go back for several years afterwards.

Serving as chaperones for my son’s band trip to Hawaii, he started an argument in front of the other chaperones – something about a camera or taking a picture, I don’t remember.  The looks on the other chaperones faces a mixture of pity and shock and awe.  I was hoping the magician we were seeing that night would ask for volunteers for his disappearing act!

It wasn’t long after that when we separated; in the middle of an argument, he threatened (again) to leave, and I warned him if he were to walk out the door, that he wouldn’t be walking back in.  Ever.  Unfortunately, the door didn’t hit him in the backside when he left.

At one point, when he was trying to weasel his way back into our home, the conversation went something like this:
HIM:  Were the phone calls at work really so bad?
ME: Uh … yeah … 
HIM:  So you mean to tell me that whenever you tried to call me, and I wasn’t at my desk, you assumed I was at work?
ME:  Uh … yeah … I did.  

Apparently I REALLY didn't pay attention the first time around.

A lengthy divorce followed (as I attempted to regain the several thousands of dollars that he owed me) and we finally said, “I Don’t” a mere 18 months after saying “I Do”.

And that’s the beginning of a personal transformation that would forever change me and my life.

Desperate to discover why I was so attuned to picking the wrong guy, I got into counseling.  What did I hope to get out of it?  I wanted to know what my part was in the downfall of not one, but two marriages.  (If you must know, it was my counselor’s professional opinion that I simply did not see or act on the multitude of red flags.)  Ever so patiently, my counselor helped me work through those issues (and several more) until I was ready to fly.  And fly I did.

At the time marriage #2 was falling apart, I underwent a spiritual awakening of sorts.  My faith walk began when I attended a spiritual retreat, the Walk to Emmaus.  It was through this retreat where I formed some incredible friendships with ladies that would help to see me through the dissolution of my marriage and who I still enjoy a loving friendship with today.

I became more active in my church, volunteering as a Stephen Minister (someone who helps others who are going through personal crises).  I was then asked to become a Stephen Leader for the ministry at my church.  It was during my Stephen Leader training that I read Speaking the Truth in Love:  How to be an Assertive Christian by Ruth N. Koch and Kenneth C. Haugk; the key word here (and the reason I share this is):  ASSERTIVE.  Where self-help books are concerned (and this wasn’t even meant to be one), this was the best!  My uber assertive co-worker even questioned what was happening with me, as she noticed my assertiveness in the office.

Just prior to accepting the leadership role at church, I was selected for my first management position in my Social Work career.  Along with my co-manager, we designed our own job responsibilities and that of our staff for the newly minted Quality Assurance section.  I loved building something from the ground up, as it were, and I was able to put my writing skills to work as we drafted procedures and other tools that enabled our staff to do their jobs.  And did I mention it was QA work?  I love structure (always have)!  As my son neared his high school graduation and prepared to leave the nest, I now had someone else (actually … about 50 someone else’s) for whom I was responsible.

It was this series of events that increased my confidence level and made me more self-aware.  I felt value in what I was doing, and I felt valued.  My self-esteem blossomed.  I grew by leaps and bounds (figuratively, of course).

No longer desperate to find a man, someone to make me whole, I made myself whole. 

I focused on my career with it’s ever-changing direction and tasks, I busied myself with my leadership role at church, and I enjoyed time with my friends – movies, dinner and drinks filled our evenings and binge-watching the Hallmark channel during the holidays was always a favorite.  I even enjoyed the time I spent at home alone.

I was content. 

It was at that point, when I was no longer actively looking for a man and I was happy with “me”, when a friend of mine said “There’s someone I think you should meet.  His name is Keith.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

An Ounce of Strength

I am a two-time loser in the game of marriage.  Yes, I eventually found my happily ever after, but before finding my prince, I did indeed have to kiss a lot of frogs.

This is part one of my not-so-beautiful love story; it’s about a young girl who fell madly in love for all the wrong reasons and who found an ounce of strength within herself.

As a college Freshman, I found who I thought was the love of my life:  Emery, a bartender at a nightclub I used to frequent.  He was from the other side of the tracks; not the wrong side necessarily, just the other side – his upbringing so totally different from my own.  And I was going to save him!  Because, you know … that’s what we girls (especially at a young age) do.  But I was young and naïve, in college and seeking my M.R.S. (isn’t that the point of college?  Kidding!)

He was raised in an alcoholic home, by a single mom, his dad (from what I gather) mostly out of the picture.  He was several years older than me.  And come to find out, he was married.  And he left me to go back to his wife.  Big surprise. 

I was destroyed. 

As time went by, I met and began a beautiful relationship with a wonderful guy. 

And then, Emery returned.  One knock on my door changed the course of my life.  I said goodbye to ‘wonderful guy’ and took Emery back in just about two heartbeats.

I’m sure there were good times, but the bad times are what stuck with me. 

I spent many a night watching him get trashed, he, being an alcoholic himself.  Yet if you asked him, he was not.  Because unlike his mother, whose choice of drink was liquor, he liked beer.  And lots of it.  And frequently.

Not only did he like beer, but he liked women.  Apparently, lots of women.  Other than me.  My sister tried to hold an intervention of sorts - sharing that he had hit on our roommate and told her countless stories of how easy it was to cheat on me.  And I found evidence of there being other women in his apartment - on more than one occasion and in more than one of his apartments.  And there were tears.  Lots of tears.  And yet I couldn't gather the strength to leave.  

And there was abuse of the emotional (and probably verbal) variety.  Forget having friends of the opposite sex, much less friends of the same sex.  I know now that he projected his infidelity onto me; as he made constant accusations, calling my monogamy into question (with both my male and female friends).    

But I just couldn’t see myself without him (I think that’s the way it is in abusive relationships).  It wasn’t even a matter of caring what would happen to him.  I really didn’t know what would happen to me.  And the strength to find out was all but non-existent.

As I prepared to graduate college and make my way into the world, my sister and brother-in-law gave me my out:  a place to stay, in another city, three hours away, where upon graduation, I stood a chance of getting my Journalism career off the ground.  And I jumped at it.

I told Emery I needed only to get settled in and get my career started before he could join me.  The truth of the matter was that I had absolutely no intention of reuniting with him.  This was the break that should’ve been made permanently when he left me the first time.  And yes, this was cowardice.

And then, there was a plus sign on the in-home pregnancy test.

What little snippet of confidence I might have gained in myself and my ability to get out of this toxic relationship just melted away.  I had a couple of decisions to make and they were big, not to mention difficult, ones.  To keep the baby or not?  To even tell him or not?  To marry this guy or not? 

At the age of 22, I didn’t feel strong enough to raise a child on my own, much less to be able to withstand society’s downward glances for having a child out of wedlock (as was common back in the day).  And so, I did tell him.  And we did get married.  And a week before my 23rd birthday, my son was born.

You would think that would be a joyous occasion.  You would think.  But as we sat down to our “complimentary” steak and sparkling fruit juice dinner in the hospital (I say complimentary because really … we all know NOTHING is complimentary in hospitals), this asshole looks at me and says, (and I quote) “so … if he was born on the 26th, when exactly did you get pregnant?”  He was trying to calculate whether he was really the father.  And there were more tears.  I did say he was an asshole, right?

I spent eight hours a day working my retail job (my dreams of a Journalism career denied) and the remaining hours trying to take care of an infant and worrying about where my husband was off to and how much he was drinking at any given moment.  Our son was colicky and so there wasn’t much sleep to be had either.

Then finally, at six months, my son began to sleep through the night.  At least there was that. 

Until … Emery came home one night, already toasted, and as I tried to feed our baby his cereal, Emery was throwing empty beer cans at me from across the room.  And that night, our baby did not sleep.

Abusing me was one thing but raising my son in an abusive home was quite another. 

I called my sister and brother-in-law the next day and said I wanted out.  The next phone call was to my mom.  Between the three of us, we set a plan for mine and my son’s escape.  And that’s exactly what it needed to be – because I truly feared Emery would never allow me to leave otherwise.  My family was strong for me when I couldn’t be.

Shortly before moving day, I found in his wallet, a phone number with the name “Debbie” written on it.  Rather than confront this hussy myself, or even confront my husband (wow – there’s an idea!), a friend of mine volunteered her husband to do my dirty work.  Pretending to be one of his (my husband’s) friends, he called Debbie, asking if she knew when Emery would be home.  This pre-dated Caller ID.  She knew exactly where he was (at work) and what time he would be home.  And that was all I needed to confirm that I was doing the right thing.  Oh!  And one other thing, the girl who caught me on my way to do laundry one day and fawned all over my son – her name was Debbie.

The day of my escape, my brother-in-law, mom, and aunt sat lying in wait until Emery left for work.  In the time it took him to work his 8-hour shift, we packed up my belongings (and yes, left him with the things he brought into the marriage) and fled to my parents’ home. 

I refused all of his phone calls for at least a week.  And when I did finally answer the phone, of course, he vowed to be better.  He denied any knowledge of Debbie.  And the cherry on top?  He knew we were drifting apart and thought perhaps we should have another baby to bring us back together.  With one ounce of strength, my answer was “NO”.

My son and I saw him for the last time around my son’s first birthday.  And his parental rights were terminated a few years later.

I can't explain why people like Emery exist in this world, but I know now that no one deserves to be treated that way. 
Knowing the person I am today, I cringe when I think about that time in my life.  How could I have been so blinded?  Why was I so weak?  How could I have allowed myself to be controlled and abused that way?  And yes, I ask myself often, what would’ve been if …

But I can’t dwell on that too much.  And I see that this was the first step in leading me to my happily ever after. 

Were it not for Emery, I would not have had my son.

Were it not for Emery, I would not have had my son who grew attached to one of his daycare providers, who became one of my best friends.

Were it not for Emery, I would not have had my son, who grew attached to one of his daycare providers, who became one of my best friends and who introduced me to my prince.