Just swimming in metaphors

You are suddenly a mermaid. Swathed in cloudy turquoise light, you dive down, down, down toward sand and tiny threads of seaweed growing from the bottom. Soaring through the water, for a second you are almost certain you are part-woman, part fish.

Ripples in the sand, not a creature in sight. Surrounded by unbreathable faded blue, this Atlantean water feels familiar, like you know it. You feel like you could stay there forever, making waves of your body beneath the waves of the ocean, bright yellow fins propelling you along the sand you’re grazing with your chest.

No one is watching you, no one knows where you are. You remember hearing about bull sharks in this area. You haven’t speared any fish, and you’re not particularly afraid, so you’re not high on a shark’s radar, but the fact that you can’t even see two feet in front of you does make you a little uneasy. They say the sharks in your mind are scarier than the real thing.

You turn over, do a quick 360 scan for dorsal fins and recline into your favorite place in the world—on your back, in the ocean, submerged in water, breathing air, staring at the sky, your body rolling with the waves. Your feet rise, then fall, gently, so gently. The water raises and releases your knees, your hips, chest, head and eventually your arms, the swell at last lifting your fingertips and setting them softly back down where they were. And the next swell comes. And another. And the clouds are beautiful. And you are certain there’s no more mystical place to be than in between earth and sky, buoyed by the sea, which you equate with God or Spirit, all by yourself, and somehow nowhere near lonely.

At the same time, it’s hard being alone sometimes. As a single, working mom, that is. You’re thinking about it a lot on this trip, which you’ve been anticipating for two years. One of your best friends curated her best friends for a birthday trip to her parents’ home in the Bahamas, and these women are awesome in all kinds of ways—funny, graceful, powerful, kind, running companies, raising families, blazing trail, nailing it in general. They each delight in their respective marriages and you’re very aware—because of you, not because of them, and no more clearly than when they wrest you away from the dashing Southern sportsman you all call “Marky Mark” at the bar because it’s just time to go home—that you are unaffiliated.

They jokingly wish that the guy, provided it’s a guy, who owns the ridiculous yacht in Baker’s Bay (Podium, if you’re curious), whoever he is, will find and fall in love with you. That, or a fun, kind, open, spiritually evolved, sexy, athletic hedge fund owner who likes you and your kids. In other words, a unicorn. You well up about the sense of aloneness at dinner one night, and one of the girls says very clearly and directly: “This is just one moment in time in your life.”

Right. It’s easy to forget. This transition you’re in, it won’t last forever. You’ve just got to move through it.

You can’t help spotting the metaphor in the opaque sea around you, and tying it to this broader moment in time. You’ve been swimming in “unknown waters” with limited visibility for a while now. Not ideal conditions. You wish it were clear, like some of your dives off the Ambar III in the Sea of Cortez, or like the deep blue off the coast of Kona. You want to see in front of you and behind you and beneath you. When you dive down, you want to behold something wondrous and to reach for it. But here you are in a cloudy, unknown corner of the ocean. You have no idea what could be swimming—or not—around you and you are not entirely sure where you’re heading.

It feels a little nerve wracking, this not knowing what surrounds and awaits you. And yet you don’t get out of the water. You heave a deep breath, pop your snorkel out of your mouth and go down, fin tips the last to disappear beneath the surface, dolphin kicking, clearing your mask and ears, to the sandy bottom, which you cannot see until the very moment you touch it.

That’s what this season of your life must be about. Diving, going, trusting, moving forward fast and hopeful into unknown waters to see what’s there, open to whatever you find. (But you think it might be nice to come across that unicorn…)

Eventually you do come back to shore, the setting sun shining a light so magical you can’t believe it. Stepping out of the hazy turquoise breaking on the beach, a mermaid transformed, you look down to see your skin appears golden. It actually looks gold in this light. And although you don’t have anything figured out, and you don’t feel any lighter, wiser or more secure than when you entered the water, in this moment in time, you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Slathered in sun and saltwater, glowing and unknowing.

Note: This is just one tale from your visit to the Bahamas, a mere snippet of a broader four-day experience, which involved all sorts of succulence you embraced with abandon. Lobster salad, island hopping, fast boats, strolls through quaint towns, conch fritters and cold rose, meditation under infinite stars, dance parties, conversations with awesome women, yacht gawking, rum punch, daily solo SUP-ing, the world’s most generous hosts, private air travel, delightful new acquaintances, swimming, paddling, laughing, reading, writing, eating. A beautiful journey. You are ready to return immediately. Still, the ocean brings stuff up for you, and even amid all the wonderment, shit gets real, so that’s what you write about.

 

Advertisements

Uncoupled: The wedding anniversary

Note: My 10th wedding anniversary was last week. It was a hard, strange day. And a beautiful milestone.

You’re 36 years old staring at the speaker in a conference room with two other people. Your client has just changed everything and the timeline holds firm. You haven’t slept a full night all week and you’re not sure why it’s hitting you so hard today, but the content of this conversation makes your cheeks hot. Your colleagues (you think that’s what you call them?) smile and nod reassuringly at you. You’re trying to stay peaceful and professional. But you want to throw a chair through the window.

You’re tired.

You’re 26 years old and think you’re fat. The estilista has just used hot glue to secure a fresh fichus leaf to the bobby pin holding dark waves behind one ear and you’re doing your makeup. You’re snapping at your sister, your mom, your friends. It’s already been a long day and the judge hasn’t even arrived. Your dress is lace. You designed it yourself. Almost everyone you love is donning sunburns, guayaberas and fancy party dresses in your favorite restaurant, where Chef Francis is serving your favorite meal. Your favorite Cuban orchestra will play your favorite music and girls in skimpy dresses will teach you all how to samba. Your friends are on vacation for this. You’ve been playing host to them—in a place you live—for three days of parties, beach outings and excursions. You’re minutes away from getting married.

You’re exhausted.

Both boys independently crawled into bed with you last night, one waking you up an hour after you shut your laptop because of his growing pains, spawning your mole-like journey through the dark hallway into the shocking light of the bathroom, fumbling around for the kids Motrin with squinting eyes at 1:30 am; and the next kid waking you at 5 am to ask you to scoot over so he wouldn’t fall off the bed. You should’ve gotten up then but, as happens to the mind in the wee hours, a now-vanished dream sequence convinced you of another hour of sleep, so you turned off your alarm and, warmed by the two small bodies snuggled panini-style against you, drifted back to sleep for nearly two more.

You oversleep. Dry shampoo. Yoga tights. A long, wool cardigan. Necklace. Ponytail holder. Riding boots and some makeup. It’s the best you can do. You yell at your kids when they refuse to wear pants. No luxurious bath drawn by your little sister on the terrace of the oceanfront Presidential Suite. No team helping you zip your dress, curl your hair, put on your shoes, hug you and bless you. No freshly plucked leaves glued into your hair. (because Mexico.) No bouquets. No orchestra. No bridesmaids. No judge. No shaman. No white bikini for the honeymoon at One&Only. No groom.

Ten years ago you cried as you left your wedding reception, groom’s hand in yours. You were glad it was over. You were tired from all the festivities, all the care you took in planning a fabulous getaway for out-of-town guests. You were ready to get on with life as a married woman. You were ready to check into a resort for three days and not do anything but rest and be with an incredible man who adored you. Some people tell you it was the most beautiful wedding they’ve ever attended. They may just be saying that. They’re probably just saying that. It mattered to you then, this calculated perfection. It doesn’t matter to you now. Objectively, though, it was one hell of a party.

Today, the day flies by—so fast, so furious, so busy—and eventually you can’t ignore the rising feelings even one more minute. You text Brian, your groom of this day 10 years ago:

“Really working the compartmentalizing over here today. About at my breaking point with work, plus the emotion of today. How’re you holding up?”

He writes back:

“I am in a good space. All is as it should be… And I just don’t see it as an end. We are still there for each other but just in different ways. The last 10 years have been exactly how it should be.”

You read this text while sitting on the office couch with Jeff, who has children your age and used to be a trauma counselor. You’re making last-minute revisions to a presentation. When you’re not working together, you have highly engaging conversations, at least you think so, about all manner of topics. You heart is warmed by Brian’s text, and you get teary.

“Today is my anniversary,” you tell him, wanting to share, thinking you can handle it. But you can’t. Tears well. “It would be 10 years.” He looks you dead in the eyes for a long second and says something to the effect of Oh, dear. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? No wonder!

He reveals that, even though he divorced from his first wife when his 40-year-old son was an infant and he deeply adores his present-day wife of 30+ years, he still prefers quiet on the day of his first wedding anniversary. It’s too much. He still feels it. He gets it.

He gives you permission to be out of sorts, permission to be a mess. He’s got this. He tells you something like, it’s a wonder you’re as sharp as you are today. This is a really big deal. And this is just your first one. Huge.

It is a really big deal. You nestle into a vulnerability in which you’re grateful to feel safe and warm—it’s miraculous, really—and you keep working side by side till the presentation is done.

It’s almost 4 pm and you’ve held it together long enough for this day. So when Lindsey checks in to see if you’re doing ok amidst the client craziness, you tell her what’s up. She immediately stands and wraps her arms tightly, warmly around you because she knows, too, that it’s a really big deal. You almost let rip with a sob, but decide to stuff it down because you are, after all, on a tight deadline, and that’s what the car is for on your drive home from the train.

The point is, you know you could cry if you wanted to. People would see you, and it would be ok. It actually would be. You make a mental note of the revelation that, eight months into your new job, you have safe spaces there. Thank God.

Later, one of your favorite guy pals messages you to vent some of his pain over a recent, devastating breakup. You also briefly share what you’re going through. He immediately sends you a Dropbox of the new Adele album. And he writes: “I wonder who else is on the verge of tears here today, let’s band together.”

You suggest reserving a conference room for a group cry. You both laugh at the idea. He thinks it sounds like a scene from a romcom. Sometimes it helps to pretend you’re in a movie…

Now it’s night. Instead of writing the presentation you absolutely must write tonight if you want to have a weekend, you sit on the couch remembering every detail you can from 10 years ago, crying till your mascara pools into your already dark under-eye circles. (You hope you’ll wrap it up soon, for the love of all that’s good, so you can get on with the presentation and get to bed, but you know you can’t rush this.)

As you sit there remembering and crying, when you really remember that day, and those 10 years of marriage gone by, you recall all the things Brian showed you, perhaps the very best of which was to trust the flow of life.

“All will unfold as it’s supposed to,” he often told you, starting the evening of your very first date 12+ years ago, when you told him how impractical this all was. You didn’t know he would end up being one of the best decisions of your lifetime, even if it didn’t work out how either of you anticipated.

“All is as it should be,” he wrote to you on the 10-year anniversary of your marriage. “And I just don’t see it as an end.”

Excavating

“Oh my gosh, I love Sarah McLachlan!” you hear your 19-year-old self say from somewhere deep within your 35-year-old body. “I’d love to be your date! Thanks for inviting me.”

Fast forward. The house lights are dimmed. You’re seated close enough to Sarah McLachlan that the definition in her triceps as she plays the piano is making you think about doing planks when you get home. You’re expecting this show, which she’s performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center, to be a night of throwback nineties nostalgia. (Silence, haters. I see “cool” shows sometimes, too.)

Hold on. Hold on to yourself. This is gonna hurt like hell.

All things considered, you’re doing well and feeling pretty light and airy these days. But, to your surprise, what looked to be a fun date on the surface becomes, three songs in, a private excavation of buried grief.

You’d neglected to remember that Sarah McLachlan writes about lost love laced with gratitude, acceptance and well wishes, which are themes that parallel the path of you and your former husband. Sure, some aspect of this music once spoke to you as a teen, but it hits you dead-on at 35.

Nevertheless, there’s a hand on your knee. It belongs to a smart, handsome man you’ve been seeing.* He’s fun. He’s clever, generous and chivalrous. A bespoke investment banker with higher ed street cred that both inspires and kinda annoys you. He’s one of those people with an insane bandwidth for both doing the demanding work he does and finding spare time to write screenplays, cook like a chef and do improv. Which makes you feel kinda dumb because you know you’ve never had that kind of bandwidth. He obviously doesn’t have kids, though. Duh. Your friends know him by the moniker “Gucci Loafers.”

“Are you sure he’s not a lesbian?” your co-worker asks the day of the show.

Not likely. But he’s complex. And maybe worthy of your attention. However, a few bars into “I Will Remember You,” you’re zooming to the center of your heart and staring at the ceiling to stop the tears from coming. You know all the words and yet it is as if you’re hearing them for the very first time.

You elect not to create a detailed grid of all the lyrics and the emotional response they trigger (you’re welcome, haters) but let’s just say you spend some time eyeballing the ceiling to ward off tears, holding your sniffles till the applause, laughing inappropriately and turning your head to the side to hide your far-flung facial expressions from Gucci Loafers. You basically look like a crazy person.

This is not at all what I expected out of the evening, you think, accepting the situation and chuckling to yourself as tears pool in your eyes, I guess I needed to feel a few things?

Sidebar: What becoming a single, working mom really looks like sometimes

Moving through a transition as massive as this one is odd. You know it’s big, and yet you just keep putting one foot in front of the other—sometimes walking, but mostly running, eyes up—because it seems like that’s what you have to do. It’s harder to slow down and breathe deep than it is to keep a fast pace.

You go to work at your new job, you probably try too hard, you attempt to build co-worker relationships and navigate office dynamics, you hold it together, you hold it in, you dive into time with the kids when you have it, you try your darnedest to cook and do housework when you don’t, you scrounge for time to exercise, you try to keep up with dog walks and dog hair, you call your lifelines in heavy tears when you fail at all of it. You use your newfound kid-free weekends to make up for lost time with girlfriends and you date around, you work your ass off to stay grounded and keep it all together. Even when you pause to meditate at night, it doesn’t matter how long you sit in physical stillness because you barely ever slow your mind down enough to actually check in and ask yourself, “Sweetheart, what are you feeling?”

So when Sarah McLachlan is singing your precise story, and you can’t turn the station, it gets real.

You suddenly know what Roberta Flack was talking about

After the show, you write a long email to your former husband:

“It was like she was singing about all my own heartache and grief and love for you as we part ways as husband and wife. I literally found myself streaming secret tears during certain songs. Could not get my abiding appreciation for you, nor the deeper sense of loss, though it’s the right path, out of my heart. It hit a deep, deep nerve in a really cool, if not hilariously inappropriate, place (on a date with someone who probably didn’t pick up on the fact that I was totally engrossed in my grieving rather than the fact he was treating me to a nice concert.)

…On listening…tonight…it reminded me so much of how deep and sad and pure and beautiful this all is. And how, even in sadness and grief, we are both so supported by God, the masters, our guides, angels and each other.”

This email opens up an exchange between you and your former partner that you previously couldn’t have imagined. You show him your true vulnerability, the sense of loss you feel and the hope you have for the future. You let him know it’s not all rainbows for you right now, even though you made it look like it was. You honor the love that was always there and still is and always will be. You both exchange the equivalent of a monumentally awesome e-hug.

The next day your eyes are swollen from all the feeling of things and crying, so you work from home. Feeling this stuff is hard work in and of itself. And, for whatever reason, it was Sarah McLachlan who made you do it. It wasn’t a cool show by hip-guy standards, but it was one of the most important shows you’ll see this year. When you do go back to work the following day, the haters make fun of you. And you laugh really hard. Because it’s funny. Really. It is.

*Epilogue:

It’s been over a month since the concert. It was a legit turning point for you in your grieving process, and you still have a way to go, but you’re soaring higher than you were when you originally drafted this blog post, which was the day after the concert. (it takes you longer to actually post stuff now that you’re a working girl.)

You haven’t seen Gucci Loafers since the show and, because you love tales of irony, here’s why: You’d suspected it for a while, but following the concert of Madame Lilith Fair Founder, conversations in the black car—it was always a black car—on the way home confirm his patriarchal (and potentially misogynistic?) leanings. Hilarious, right?

Fitting daintily within the patriarchy was fun for a minute, but it’s not really your scene, so you fade out. “Well, at least until Tori Amos goes on tour and he calls you with tickets,” your co-worker chides you over lunch, making you almost choke on your food.

You don’t hear from Gucci Loafers much after that, either, so you figure he saw something equally glaring and repulsive in you during that conversation. In other words, you probably won’t be crying about him at your next girl power concert. And he’s not crying over you.

You wish him general wellbeing and expansion, and you’re thankful to him. After all, he facilitated your all-important excavation and the subsequent connection with your former partner, freeing you to move to the next level of healing. Gucci Loafers also taught you, as dating does, a few things you know you want in a man at some point, and a few things you know you don’t. And, single lady friends, that is some valuable information…