All kinds of messy

Maybe my world has been a little too messy in the past year and a half.

Too outlandish.

Fast.

Complicated.

Out of the ordinary.

Full of compartmentalizing, fear, prayer, stardust.

Nonsensical.

Raw.

Magical.

Hard to explain.

Gritty.

Alarming.

Secretly hilarious.

All has been just as it was supposed to be. Still, I haven’t felt ok telling the stories. It hasn’t felt safe.

Didn’t want to hurt anyone.

Didn’t want to bore anyone.

Didn’t want to expose anyone.

Didn’t want to expose myself.

Didn’t want to live my life online.

Didn’t feel like defending my thoughts, actions and explorations to a critical world.

Why would I drag anyone through the details of hedonistically dating around, striving to stand on my own financially for the first time, coddling my children through the unfairness and pain of so much huge transition, figuring out how to work full-time after years of stay-at-home-mom-ness, falling in love, blending families, starting a completely new life?

Messy.

It all felt like a little too much to share. A little too shamey. And yet falling in love is traditionally something you really, really want to shout from the mountaintops. It was my shame at love finding me so soon after the end of my marriage—more than a year later, but still—that kept me quiet. “She’s obviously rebounding,” I heard the voices in my head say. “What is she, crazy?” “Apparently she can’t handle being alone…”

I knew in my heart none of those statements was true. But, out of fear, I kept all the deliciousness of my unfolding relationship with Clive to myself, my sister and my closest friends.

feet

I wanted to share, though.

I wanted to write about things like how, behind closed doors with him, I could never decide whether I wanted to keep talking, exploring the mental/spiritual/emotional, or to shut up and explore the physical because both aspects were so tantalizing and so electrifying I couldn’t possibly choose. (Sidenote: After acquainting myself with Emily After Dark, I had discovered how rare a find this truly was…)

I wanted to marvel about how we conversed about God in similar ways. That we actually shared parenting ideals. That his executive mind magically contrasted with his dreamy inner life. That he challenged me and pushed me to grow in all manner of pleasant and less-fun ways across all manner of themes.

I wanted to tell about that time we played tag in New York and I couldn’t catch him, even when I was sprinting my fastest—both of us breathless with laughter—until I almost got him and instead tripped over his heel, did an endo, smashed my face into a patch of grass, threw my neck out, grass-stained my white jeans and he was sick to his stomach for hours fretting that he’d hurt me bad. (I was fine. We all know I’m not dainty.) But the way he cared for me in those moments after my embarrassing fall…so tender and wonderful. Now we laugh about it. I do so love his laugh.

I wanted to rave about how much fun we had sharing a giant plate of cheese fries and dancing to 80s music with my friend, Amin, at a summer street fest. That, as a former tennis pro, he’s teaching me how to play the game I’ve always wanted to learn—and loves doing it. How he declares I’m “majestic” even first thing in the morning and pauses everything to look in my eyes to make sure I really am fine when I say I am. I want to tell the world we talk and laugh into the wee hours because we don’t want to waste time sleeping.

And then there was that day he told me he wanted to learn how to meditate, so he’d signed up for the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) lessons. (Sidenote: In my 10 years of being a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda, not one person has ever signed up for the SRF lessons as a result of knowing me—until Clive.) I wanted to write about how it felt when I walked in on him reading the first meditation lesson to find his giant smile thanking me for the introduction and knowing we truly shared our path to God.

And, of course, the vision of him sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the wood floor outside his bathroom in Lincoln Park when I emerged and informed him I wasn’t pregnant and, smiling his sweet half-smile, he said, “You know, it would’ve been OK if you were.” And then, four days later, how elated he was when I took another test, and then two more, that told us I was, in fact, very unexpectedly pregnant.

parents

I may or may not be disproportionately this much larger than my family of origin and my children in real life, but they all love me regardless. Also, it turned out they, and my sis and her family, were all as elated as Clive when they heard the unexpected news.

Very unexpectedly pregnant

As good as it was, I couldn’t shake the fear. How would it look once everyone knew I got pregnant within a month of dating a new guy, my first committed relationship since marriage? How irresponsible of me!

Almost as bad, how would the outside world respond if I actually admitted that I wrestled—so painstakingly—with whether to stay pregnant?

On discovering the news, I cried with fear and dwelled in permanent nausea every day for two months. Despite being wildly and yet groundedly in love with an all-around wonderful man who wanted our baby and a life with me and my boys more than anything in the world, I was so scared. Scared to find I was not in control of my life. Scared I’d worked so hard for freedom and now I was committing both to a baby and to a new partner all at once. Scared my sons would feel abandoned if I had another baby. Scared of the pain of childbirth. Scared of the postpartum reality. Scared the allure of our relationship would fade with my growing belly. Scared of the sleep deprivation that comes with an infant. Scared of derailing the professional life I’d fought so hard to start. Scared of reversing the liberation for which I’d given up almost everything I knew.

None of this felt like a story worth sharing. I could hurt people, hurt myself.

Eventually I did something to this point I hadn’t done much in my life.

I called my mom.

Something compelled me. I knew I needed her. I expected her to tell me to march myself to Planned Parenthood. Instead, she burst into tears.

Decisively and lovingly, she said something huge, not in these exact words, but the gist was: Don’t just think of this as a baby. Soon that baby will be a child. Then that baby will be a big kid. And then he or she will be a teenager. And eventually you’ll be talking with him or her on the phone like I’m talking to you right now. You need to have this baby. I know it seems crazy, and I don’t know why I’m feeling this way right now, but I just have the strongest feeling God wants you to have this baby.

I had that feeling, too. And, yet, through tears and nose blows, I debated her.

“But what will this do to the boys? What will people say about me? I’m going to hurt so many people. I’ve struggled so hard to be OK on my own. This is going to derail everything. Everyone is going to think I’m crazy.”

She told me that when a baby is born, everyone is flooded with love, and so it would be with my boys and everyone else who counted. She told me it didn’t matter what other people thought, that she and my dad loved me. She told me families could look a lot of different ways, and I could do whatever I wanted. She told me I’d worked hard enough for long enough in enough different ways and it was ok to enjoy and embrace Clive’s love and all that came with it. She told me I was not crazy.

“Sweetie, all my life I made decisions because I was terrified of what my mother would think. My mother made decisions because she was terrified of what everyone else would think. We are not going to do that anymore. That ends here.”

poolside

Clive snapped this of me, baby bump and all, poolside on a late-summer getaway in the lakey, piney hills of New Hampshire. Do I look like I care what people think of me? Thanks, Mom. (Sidenote: Warm welcome to the forehead vein who now likes to make an appearance when I laugh, cry and rage.)

Worrying about what people think of me? That ends here.

It turns out people have asked my friends why I’m driving a new car—a whole other crazy part of this new abundance—and pry “who’s the guy?” when they could just ask me directly. Moms at school have pumped my nanny, who has no idea who they even are, for details and she has alternately appeased them with a response, changed the subject or told them that I’m her employer and that we have a professional relationship. (BS. She knows everything.) “You know people are talking about you, Emily,” she said. “But don’t even care what they say. What they think does not matter. Those people have no idea how good it really is.”

It’s more than a little creepy to think people in my community might be talking about me, about my sons. I’m still working on letting this stuff roll off and living my life without fear of external perceptions. Without fear of being a curiosity, or an outcast.

And it’s true. My world is too messy to write about. Messy, messy, messy. But if I don’t tell the stories, how will others experiencing similar situations know they’re not alone?

We’ve all got messes. And if I’ve learned anything at all so far, like finger painting, brownie sundaes, moves into bigger spaces to accommodate bigger love and dances in the rain, if done sincerely and with love, a messy life is a rich life.

new-family

My sweet, growing family, and one of the Blue Men, who show us how artful a mess can be.

 

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.

 

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.”