I was in the prime location where we all know the best heart-to-hearts between women occur: the Powder Room of a department store with an exceptional lingerie department. There's no better place to resolve conflict. (Note to self: Suggest to United Nations they hold international peace talks in the Neiman Marcus loo.)
Gal in the first stall is talking to the gal in the stall next to her. They're obviously longtime friends.
Stall #1 is at, she says, the end of her rope. Would it kill her husband to make an effort and blah blah blah…you know the list. She's 50-something and she cannot believe this is how it all turned out.
Stall #2: You know what I'm going to say.
Stall #1: Don't say it.
Last Stall: (That's me, in the best seat in the house): Sayitsayitsayit!! Tell her the cold, hard truth. Do your job, BFSHS (best friends since high school). Only a real friend can man up and speak ugly truths.
Technically, that last part happened only in my head, where my daughter often reminds me: "It's always America in your brain. You can think whatever you want. You just can't say it."
Suit of Spanx
The two women leave. I'm ruminating on what I wish I had said, and then it hits me. This, right here, is my dream job. I want to say the things we think we can't. I've always been the one my friends call when they're ready to make some big life leap, to confront some Big Truth, to move out of something or somewhere, to reclaim some long-lost self, to push beyond what's safe and known and to jump. I'm the gal you want next to you on the ledge, when you're on the verge of your ___________(fill-in-the-blank) transformation/transition/reinvention.
I picture myself in a tasteful superhero getup, something made entirely of Spanx, sleek and black, of course, with a slimming, A-line tennis skirt to cover the brutality childbearing inflicts on an unsuspecting woman's body and nobody tells you because there's this bizarre cult-like conspiracy to keep the species going because if anybody showed you your 'after' photos you'd, well, you'd do the same thing but just get mad about it sooner.
What's the opposite of conflict averse? I'm conflict perverse. I am most especially excellent if the conflict is personal, involves relationship-related injustice, includes a woman at the end of her rope, and is not one iota my business.
Call me: Woman on the Verge.
Or...on the brink?
Imagine the possibilities.
Picture all the ladies out there, on the verge of something big. Need a little push, a little wind beneath your wings? There I'll be. Marriage, mothering, midlife, worklife, balancing, body parts, divorce, dating, grieving, identity, friendships, sexships – we'll tackle it all here.
I bring mad skills, as the kids say, to this position. My 20-year background as a newspaper reporter makes me, what my daughter calls, 'a good finder' of people, information, resources and lost homework. My longtime experience as a college professor working with teens and 20-somethings gives me keen insight into a population often in need of the kind of reality check and tough love I'm prepared to render. I was a wife for a long time, and now I'm not, so that's like earning an advanced degree in something. And it means nothing shocks me. I'm a mom, so I know—and can do—everything and am impossible to embarrass. I'm a woman of a certain age and experience, so I have a deep vat of wisdom to tap into. Best part is I have a flock of brilliant, longtime BFFs who know all.
How I got here
These days I could use a blast of wind beneath my own wings. I enter this online conversation still flailing in mid-air after making nearly every possible transition a gal of a certain age can make. I threw everything up in the air and am still seeing what comes back down, what falls away. In recent months my husband and I separated, I quit my teaching/writing job, got a new teaching/writing job, packed up my apple-didn't-fall-far-from-the-tree sassy daughter and moved 2000 miles from a sleepy college town in the Pacific Northwest (where the air was suffocatingly clean) to my childhood hometown just outside Chicago.
I came home in a fog of despair and grief. In the same 48 hours my now ex-husband and I decided to tear asunder our marriage, the rest of my life came crashing down in a stunningly horrifying trauma I will never, ever get over. My beloved younger brother, who was my best friend, the smartest, kindest, loudest, wisest creature every created – a social worker, teacher, extraordinary mentor to students from Chicago's most challenged high schools, a marathon runner, a new father – died after doctors misdiagnosed his thunderous headache as a migraine. It was not a migraine. It was a blood clot that did not have to kill him. I now know what I should have known then. What I don't know is how to live with that.
I cried on the floor into my dogs for a while. My daughter still nods knowingly and tells friends who come over and find me staring into nowhere: "It's okay. My mom's in grief." Like it's a land or a planet I'm visiting and will be back soon to get out the string cheese.
The twin traumas – death and divorce – meant I didn't get the chance to mourn the death of my 13-year marriage (to a very good guy, I should add). Now we're reinventing our relationship as friends and parents as we go. It's confusing and fraught terrain but we're trying to keep our eyes on the prize: minimize the damage to our daughter and to our future selves.
If memory serves...
Speaking of future selves, the last time I had a date, Gov. Bill Clinton was accused of sexual harassment, the IRA declared a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, and O.J. Simpson was taking us all on that long, winding ride in his white Ford Bronco.
So here we are, having gone home again even though they say you can't. And the thing I've noticed about being a mom in grief, parenting in front of my own mother who wonders aloud if I'm wearing that out and you should get your ends cut.
I notice that a gal like myself, finding herself in these circumstances – with nothing left to lose, on the floor – I'm noticing as the fog clears, everything but the essential truths fall away. There is nothing more to protect, to hide, to avoid. It's all just there in front of me. I am gripped by such sadness, shame and despair. I cannot believe this is my life. And yet…
And yet….suddenly at my most pathetic moment, there arises this super fun offer to write in this forum.
First thought: This is not a paper bag I can write my way out of. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've always been the Woman with the Plan and here I am, utterly plan-less. What I am…is a mess. What could I possibly say?
Second thought: What if this is exactly the place from which I should write? What if I'm a mess on the verge, and this is just where it all starts getting juicy.
I got hit. Hard. Like we all do. But I'm still on the mat. Face down, but on the mat, on the brink of something else. Just need a little breeze.
I like to use misuse religion to defend my notions about the world. I believe the Buddhist teachings are in order here. From what I understand, they embrace this place I'm in. The idea is if you open yourself to the pain or self-loathing or whatever your despair-of-choice is, if you 'lean in to the sharp places,' without judging them or swatting (or shopping, snorting, eating, drinking, gambling, starving) them away, if you do that, you're on your way. (I never know where exactly, but I bet it's like a spa with great smells and tinkling water sounds).
Simply sitting in the discomfort of that emotional muck, right there in that painful moment is all the energy and wisdom you need to be a 'warrior,' to awaken, to transform. I adore this idea. It means all I have to do is keep still, not run, stay here, on the floor, on the mat, and see what happens. What if, broken as I am, I'm actually on the verge of something extraordinary?
What if we all are?
Read more from my Divorce Diaries:
Here are more thoughts on Grief and Healing: