Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, Relationships, Self-help, Uncategorized

Starting Over at the Beginning

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Painting of Lizzie and Reggie commissioned for Xmas 2010 for Audie
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First picture of Lizzie Roberts – the day Audie adopted her in 2005.

“Don’t you want to leave the painting here? Why do you want to put it in storage? You said you wanted to keep it here last summer because you were worried something would happen to it…” I said to him as he took the painting of Lizzie and Reggie and wrapped it in bubble wrap, along with the photo of Lizzie he took the day he adopted her.

Then he put them away in the box, taped it shut, and said he wanted to take them with him now.

“But they might get damaged in storage…”

“No they will be fine…”

I wasn’t prepared for the panic I felt when he took those keepsakes of Lizzie and Reggie off the shelf: the painting I gave him for our first Christmas as husband and wife, the photo of Lizzie, and Grey Kitty – with her urn – and the funny door hangers I bought him with Frenchie and pug heads, respectively.

Before he left, he took one last look in every space in the house, to make sure he had not left anything behind.

And that was the end – all of his things – were gone.

Last night, at midnight, I knelt down in front of Lizzie’s and Reggie’s pictures.  I placed a hand on each of their urns .

“I would never have known you if I’d never met him…”

And then- it all came crashing down on me –  I gave into the sorrow and the tears came. Hard and fast.

“You’re all gone! All four of you are gone!” I cried – looking over my shoulder at Toby’s pictures and then back at Lizzie’s and Reggie’s. I gripped the edge of the table.  I let out the pain I try so hard to hold in and hide from everyone – this void that I am ashamed to talk about – because I don’t understand.

Why can’t I get over him the way he has gotten over me?

It’s as if the last 10 months didn’t happen – I am right back where I started that night he was packing some of his clothes and personal things.

“I’m not going to bring a lot of stuff with me. I don’t have a lot of room.”

And when he walked over to the shelf, he held the painting, of Lizzie and Reggie, and that look in his eyes, I’ll never forget, as he said, “I don’t want anything to happen to this. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

Last night, he said the exact same thing as he packed it away: “This is my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

It was not all he said that night in June…because he thought, maybe, if his feelings changed, he’d come back, before December 31st – if he felt a spark at all, he said, we wouldn’t sign the papers.  And he’d come home.

I held onto that hope for dear life, day after day, for a long time – it took longer than that for the reality to set in after he told me, five months early, that it was over.

Now, I’ve had 10 months.

But, yesterday – it was as if he had left all over again – as if I was right back there in June – back to that night when he left.

How is it possible that my feelings are right back where I started at the beginning? The last 10 months – how could it feel like they never happened – when I know very well that they did.

I thought I would be all right. But I wasn’t. I thought because I prepared myself ahead of time, for what I might feel like yesterday, that I would be okay. But I wasn’t.

And I’m not.

Since he left last night, I have been feeling claustrophobic in this house. I feel like someone’s hands are around my neck, gripping it, and choking me.

I feel lost in this house.

It suddenly feels empty, and larger than life.  And the loneliness is overwhelming me.

I cry as soon as I come into the front room, and see their painting is gone, and the pictures are gone.

I hurry past the ugly brown desk that I asked them to move into the dining room after they removed his beautiful table. I can’t even look at it. The curio is gone, and the coffee table, and all of his things. All of them, every last one.

There is so much emptiness – the spaces where his things were – I suddenly can’t breathe.

I didn’t realize it would feel like this. I didn’t realize that I was holding onto the things he left in the house as a way of unconsciously holding onto him, and our marriage. There must be something wrong with me – it makes no sense.

Except – grief doesn’t make sense. It never does.

I’m sitting in my green chair, looking out the window. In the room where the dogs’ photos and keepsakes are – it is the only room left that feels safe now. Safe from the agony that is gripping me. My classical music is playing – the newly-sprouted leaves sway in the wind. The lush trees dance as the trunks move from right to left. It seems like winter was never here…

I know that there is no way I can explain to him, or to her, or to anyone, why I feel this way.  I am ashamed that I still feel this way.

Only someone who matters to you can make you feel anger…or joy…or pain…or…love.

He is lucky. He is no longer affected – not negatively, not positively – there is nothing. It is just a blank. I am invisible. I am mute. I am a phantom of a love story that I am beginning to doubt was ever real for him at all.

All I know for certain is that I don’t want to feel this way – the only person that I’m hurting now is myself -not him, not her.

I do not want to hurt either of them – not that I can – only someone who matters to you can hurt you.

But I know that I am hurting myself, not intentionally.  Pretending like I’m fine, and more importantly, acting as if I’m fine, is so much harder than I thought – and I have not been able to do it as well as I wanted, or needed, to.

I tried so hard to be perfect, that inevitably, I failed to do so, when I had to.

It is just too hard to be perfect, and to never make a mistake – especially in this, of all things – losing the person you love most in the whole world, that you love more than you’ve ever loved anyone.

It is too hard to be perfect -watching them leave you – watching them run toward someone else – because you were not enough.

Because no matter how hard you tried to fix what you did, and said, that was wrong – you can never make it right. Because the love was not strong enough to withstand your mistakes. Because all he can see…are your mistakes…

“You’re a good person, but a wife is something special.”

He was sitting at the dining room table – I’ll never forget.

It was the last thing he said to me, in August, before he told me, two days later, “I do not want to continue our marriage.”

It took me two more weeks to fully process that our marriage was really over.

And now, I’m back there again, as if it just happened. And I don’t know how to stop the hurt.

One of my best friends in San Diego called last night, out of the blue, thankfully, to check on me. I told him what happened, what I’d done – what I’d said – last night after he picked up the phone in his car. I heard a ringtone that I didn’t recognize, he looked at me, and I knew, I knew who it was. And then he answered the phone.

We were at the Starbucks drive-thru – on our way back home from his storage unit.

I was so mad at myself (I still am), but, the hurt was so strong, what I said, it just came out.

I had come so far with him – to the point that I almost thought he was not stressed around me anymore.

And then the reality of the two of them – right there in his car – hearing her voice, and  him talking to her – it just – it was too much for me – on the hardest day – the last day – the day he was taking the last of his things from our home – the absolute end of our decade-long life together.

At that point, I could not think straight. It was just too much for me to hold inside.

I’d held the pain in for 3 weeks, hidden away, and in that moment, it pushed its way up to the surface – all the pain of losing him, for good,  to her.

My friend told me to stop being so hard on myself – we’d spent so much time together in this house, the house we shared, in the last few weeks, it was understandable, he said, that I’d feel like this. He also told me that he’d known me for long enough (19 years) to see how far I’ve come, how much better I am – he told me 5 years ago, and 10 years ago, he never could have talked to me about what happened like he did last night. I would not have been able, or willing, to listen to him. And now I was, he told me.

I told my friend, “5 years ago I was with Audie, and that’s what happened. I couldn’t listen to him tell me these kinds of hard things.”

I was thinking an hour ago, as I was thinking about when she called, and about what happened after that conversation – that it was a good thing, in a strange way, because it made me think about her in a different light than I had since I found out about their romantic relationship, about a month ago.

I understand why she feels the way she does about him. I don’t know much about her life, but the little I do know, I admire and respect.

It is unfortunate the way she and I have this man we love, in common, now, but I think, I sense, from what happened in his car, that she doesn’t wish for me to be hurt.

For me, I think, in other circumstances, if I were anyone but his soon-to-be former wife, I would admit that I know that this isn’t easy for her, either, and that she’s doing the best she can, in this awkward situation, just like I am.

Falling in love with him, is something we have in common, and there’s no way to navigate that easily – no way whatsoever. But I don’t feel angry at her, strangely. I did, for a while, but not now.

I understand – when you fall in love with him, you just want to be with him – you don’t want to have to wait for the final chapter of his previous life to end, in order to begin the first chapter in yours.

He would not have such strong romantic feelings for her, or be so drawn to her, if she were not a wonderful person, too, in her own unique ways. I’m sure of that. And I’m sure she’s trying her best to be fair, too, in her own way, under the circumstances.

It gives me peace to think the best about her, and I want to continue to try to focus on wishing happiness for him, even though I am grieving for the loss of our future together.

I know it is not going to be easy, and I don’t know how long it will take. My friend said I will never completely stop loving him, and I know that’s true – he was my husband and we were together almost 10 years.

He and I feel differently, but I know that’s how I feel, and if I can give myself permission for it to be okay to love him, as long as I keep trying to move forward, and to continue to heal  – then maybe there’s nothing bad, or wrong, if I do not get to where he is at.

We are different people – I don’t know if it really means it was never real – because he feels nothing now at all – but I think it is okay if I do feel these things.

As long as I can somehow find a way to re-open the gap between June, and now, that suddenly closed completely, when he was here in this house, our marital house, ending our life together for good.

I know that because I had to be perfect, I couldn’t be. It was just impossible for me. I wish it had been enough to be better, to have come as far as I did, but I couldn’t be perfect.

I know he needed me to, but I couldn’t do it. He told me many times that when he’s in love with someone, they don’t have to be perfect, and I was far from perfect.

I’d like to think that there were many things about me that were perfect for him – he used to say to me, “You’re perfect for me.”

He said it many times, those first two years, but he also said, if he’s not in love, and the feelings are gone, all the things that would never bother or upset him before, now…

I do not think he is unusual that way. I think being in love, we have blinders on. Maybe that’s why it is so easy for me to focus on his good qualities, and it’s always been that way. Even when I got upset, I got over it so easily, because in the end, I loved him so much, I only saw the good.

Even now – I still only think about the good.

I guess that’s not a good thing – especially now. But, it’s not a choice. It just is.

I wasn’t prepared to start over at the beginning, but I’ve been told, it won’t take as long to get back to where I was – to full acceptance and being able to bear the pain, and the grief, without it taking me down like it has today and last night.

I don’t know how to stop being so hard on myself – he told me there’s no point in beating myself up for what I did.  And yet, we fell into that conversation loop I thought we’d put to rest, after she called, and he reminded me of the reasons why I lost him –  how do I not beat myself up for that?

He told me he’s not angry. I believe his connection, his feelings, for her, have a lot to do with that. I’m glad he’s okay. I want him to be okay, even if it’s not with me.

I think my friend is right. Up until he took the last of his things, I was okay living alone in this house. Through Lizzie’s death, Reggie’s death, I was okay in the house.

But now, I feel like it’s a gravesite – because it is – it is the gravesite of my life with them, and I have never, ever felt so alone in my entire life. I have never ached for anyone the way I ache for all of them.

I do not feel like I want to go back to San Diego the way I did in the very beginning, and this is so sadly ironic – I left my last home to be with him, and now I think I have to leave this home to heal from losing him.

It feels like I’ve come full circle – back to the beginning – leaving one home for him at the start, and now leaving another home for him, at the end.

After last night, I realized that I have no choice. I have to try my hardest to find a way to be at peace with his new dreams with her, and to lay to rest, once and for all, the dreams I had with him.

The first day after a death is the hardest – the shock is real.

I must be in shock, I suppose, but I don’t feel numb. I feel the pain of everything.

Today, I was thinking back to four years ago. This weekend is the 4-year anniversary of the weekend I came back home – to him and our dogs.

My mom was very ill for a long time, and when I should have been here, I was in San Diego, in 2012, and 2013, and then for almost 5 months in 2014-2015 when she was acutely ill.

During that time, she said something to me, that I can’t stop thinking about today. She said, “I just want to be normal.”

On February 3rd, the last day I saw him before he began moving out, he said to me, “I understand. You’re just different.”

Normal is not different.

I think she found him at the right time in his life, and I found him at the wrong time. And sometimes, sadly, that’s just how it is. It just comes down to luck and timing. But, also, sometimes when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  And when you know, you know.

I believe, that’s what’s happened between them – I may be wrong, but that is what I believe. A casual friendship, over the years, led them to reconnect at the right time in his life, when he was ready – he wasn’t looking for it, he told me. That’s usually when it happens.

Ironically, he said the same thing to me ten years ago, when we met, for the first time, but he must not have been ready then – his life is set now. He has fought the hard fight and come out on the other end. I imagine it’s the same for her, though I don’t know, but I think so, the little I know, it sounds like it. And that’s usually when people are able to make it work – when everything else has come together for them first – and then, the relationship feels effortless.

I wonder – my friend told me that I will always have to live with and cope with the part of me that led to the difficulties I had in my marriage. That is something that I am finding difficult to accept. I hope I can.

I am grateful he also reminded me that I am a wonderful person. Last night,  I needed to hear that.

I don’t know if Audie believes that, too, but even if he did, I know that it is too late now. It would never be enough.

Starting over from the beginning was so unexpected, and I have new regrets now. But, I hope I have not undone whatever good I did when I was able to choose the high road these last several months. I wasn’t perfect, neither was he, but, it truly is hard to be perfect in a divorce. I think that might be impossible, actually.

Every journey begins with the first step.

For now, I am determined to do what I set out to do – to be helpful,  to be brave,  to be gracious, and thoughtful, and mature – and considerate –  anything that I can do that makes me proud – to be me.

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Audie, Reggie, Lizzie, Toby and me: my former family. In Balboa Park, July 27, 2011

 

 

 

Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Uncategorized

The Art of Splitting Up Together

“This can’t be mine,” he said matter-of-factly as he took a quick glance and passed it over to me.

“No, it’s not,” I said softly as he handed me the dress I wore at our December wedding reception.

It was the third day, or maybe the fourth, of the process of moving his things out of this house we bought, our third home since we got married, the one that we shared for our last six years.

We have had to work in small increments, over several days, in the past few weeks, to get it done. We have made a lot of progress. We are nearly done – only the big items remain now.

On the first day, we sorted through the piles of boxes in the garage that I had put to one side for him so that it would be easier to divide up our possessions. I had spent about three weeks doing the same thing in every room in the house prior to the move. All of his things were placed in drawers that I marked as his so he could find everything easily. It was best for both of us to make it easier, and it was – I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been for us to pack his things if we had to go searching as we went along.

I wanted to make things as easy as possible in the most difficult part of this whole long process – this painfully excruciating process that feels like a slow death – because it is.

My hope was that somehow, some way, it would lessen the pain.

It didn’t, but, at the same time, I think it would have been worse to have done this differently by washing my hands of it, as many people advised me to do – with good reason.  But, in spite of the pain I feel, I’m glad I am doing what feels right to me.

And- just like when I did everything I could to make sure he was with his dogs, when he wanted to be, especially when we had to say goodbye, I am glad I did everything I could to make this move – which has not been easy on either of us – easier than it would have been, had I not divided up our things, and put his things in designated places for him, ahead of time.

That first day, when we were sorting through his boxes in the garage, it was like a treasure hunt – and if we had been going through his things to downsize, or do spring cleaning, or to get ready to sell the house together – something other than splitting apart – it would have been fun, and adventurous – even silly.  Instead of heartbreaking and bittersweet.

For – I found things of his that I wish we’d had in the house, or all of our three homes, I should say, all along. To find them now – when I couldn’t do anything except to carefully pack them in new boxes  – that are not covered with dirt and spider webs and God knows what else from all those years in the garage – well, it felt like its own loss.

In one of the boxes, I found a bunch of photographs and mementos from his past – and I genuinely and sincerely got so excited seeing them, my heart was full of giddiness looking through the memories of his life.

It was an experience of feeling heartbroken and overjoyed, at the same time.

I’ve studied psychology enough to know that dialectical truths happen all the time – there is nothing wrong with them, and when you think about it, some of them make sense. This was one of them – finding photos from his travels and from his graduate school days. I had seen his martial arts photo and his second grade class photo before, but I had no idea he’d acted in a school musical! Why did I have to find these things out now – when it’s too late.

I found his diploma from University of New Mexico and then, the photo from Washington State – when he was robed, receiving his Ph.D. I knew I’d seen that one before, but somehow it looked different this time – I felt my chest well up – as if I’d been there in the audience watching him receive this diploma he had fought so hard for – harder than most people, and it was a long, long road for him, for many reasons.

He’d earned it. And that joy on his face, that smile in that photo – the only other time I’d seen that look on his face was at our wedding – when I was saying my vows. At least, that’s the only time I can remember.

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Our wedding day: October 25, 2010 – as I was saying my vows to Audie

I’m certain there must have been other times in his life that he felt the way he looked in that graduation photo, but I am positive that nothing meant as much to him to date as that moment did – I know what he went through to get there – I’ve seen what he’s been through since, but I also know, there were times he wasn’t sure he’d make it – and he did.

That’s true joy.

I was so proud of him all over again. I said, “I wish I’d known we had this, I would have put it up on the wall in our house.”

I had told him many times since we first met that I wish I had known him back then so I could have been there to see him get his Ph.D. in person.

I think back to 2017 when he got his R01 grant and knew he would get tenure – I had wanted that to feel the same, too, but I had done too much damage – and that moment I had watched him work his ass off for – for 6 long years – was not what I had thought it would be.

And it was part of what has led me here – and the emptiness I feel is much like I felt that day when he told me he got the grant, the big one, that meant he was assured tenure – and there was so much space between us – I could not reach out and hug him and tell him – loud and proud – what was in my heart. I had to say it quietly, when I wanted to roar, “You did it! I knew you would do it! I always knew, even when you doubted yourself, I knew you would get the R01 grant and tenure!”

I wanted so much to take him in my arms but all I could do was sit in the passenger seat and tell him, my voice drifting, “I always thought this would feel differently when it happened.”

On the second day,  we put together boxes (he did that part, mostly), and we spent the rest of the day taking the pieces of his part of the life we shared together off of shelves, out of drawers, out of cabinets, and tossing them into cardboard boxes – taping them up, labeling them – as I’ve done so many times – except this time, it felt like I was losing a part of myself with every last thing I packed away.

At one point, he said to me, as he was packing one bookshelf and I was on the other side of the room packing the other, “I’m sorry how things turned out with us.”

He said it, like everything else lately, very matter-of-factly, and this time, I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. Not to that. There was really nothing for me to say – I feel it is my fault, and it was the first time I wondered  – am I really the only one who is grieving  the end of our marriage?

I know that sounds unfair, except that I just don’t know what he meant when he said that. So I let it be.

When I was packing up the dishes and glasses and all the pots and pans and utensils in the kitchen that belonged to him (which took the longest of anything I did), he was upstairs in the storage room packing up things of his that were all a hodge podge. I could not figure out what was what when I was sorting his things so I’d put it all in the middle for him to figure out – at least I knew they were his, that was a start.

It was weird – the first day, especially, but the second day, and today, too – we were different. And if we’d been like this our entire marriage – I think we’d still be married. I said something to him along the lines of, “Some people do better with each other when they are not married.”

It was not what I wanted, but it seemed to be what was happening – all of a sudden, we were communicating and it was not hard, or didn’t seem like it. No one seemed angry, and all of a sudden, no one seemed to care if he kept this, or I kept that, or if I borrowed this, or if he left that behind…the stuff didn’t matter. Not a bit.

I can’t speak for him, but for me, I felt that he could have taken every single thing in that house and given it away – if I could have had the man standing there as my husband – forever. If it would make what was happening now, in his life, not be happening.

But, I also promised myself that I have to pay the consequences for my mistakes and for my faults and for what I said, especially, and this – this is the price of that.

I remind myself every day – he deserves to be happy, I want him to be happy.

Even if my insides are gutted out knowing I’ve lost him forever to someone else.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much. And that it didn’t feel so unfair.

I fought so hard for my marriage, for so many years, and she gets the benefit of all the hard work of it all – everything we both went through, everything we both learned, all of the sacrifices we both made.

It is truly the most painful consequence of all.

Now that all the hard stuff is in his past, now that it’s all easy, does she become my judge and jury?

All I do know is that she fills that space in his life now – in every way.

I never thought it would be this hard – but it is – it is agonizing.

I never thought it would turn out this way. I’m too much of an idealist, I know that, but I thought if I didn’t give up, through the hard years, the good, the bad, and all the in between, that in the end, we would spend the rest of our lives together after all.

The way it all unfolded, and when, hurts worse than I ever imagined. Mainly because I did not ever think I’d have to go through watching it unfold right in front of me in real time.

I wish she had considered my feelings in this situation – I wish she had put herself in my shoes before she made the decisions she did.

But how can I expect her to do that? How can I expect someone who doesn’t know me to do that?

I can’t.

That’s the consequences, and I know that. I just have to live with it, and do my best to remember who I am, who I was, what we had, and that no one can take that away from me.

But more importantly, I want to treat him,  and anyone in his life, including her, the way I’d want to be treated.

She is the luckiest woman in the world – my only consolation is – I believe she knows she is, or at least, I choose to believe the best about her in that way.

I hope that she is a good person who is not enjoying the thought of my being in pain, but either way, I want to be fair.

She makes him happy – I can tell.  I can hear it, I can see it. And seeing him happy is all I want for him.

As hard as this is, I love him enough to let him go.

I’d rather know the truth, than not know. Than be left in the dark, wondering what happened.

For me, knowing the truth is the only way I know how to find radical acceptance, and to move forward.

Just now, I thought we’d said goodbye, and all of a sudden, as I was writing, he texted me to ask if he could take the trash bags out of the garage to take to the dump since he was in the area.

I wondered why he wanted to do that now, with the thunder stirring in the air, and the lightning flashing in the sky – it’s late, and he’s been loading and unloading boxes most of the day.

It would have been fulfilling to have done this at a different time, but now I’m so afraid of the void in the future – what’s next? I have no idea where I want to live, or what’s going to happen, and today, if I had let myself, I would have almost believed that this was not a divorce, but simply a move – just any old move.

But it’s not. And he’s almost done.

In 7 short days, this will all be done.

And then, I don’t know what will happen – I may never see him again.

I can’t imagine the thought of never meeting again – but in the end, I know that there is no way to control that – or even to know if it is true.

My hope is that I will always look back on this time in peace – one day – someday.

It leaves a pit in my stomach when I think about what this means – and it did while it was happening – some of the time: going through the pieces of our life together, his things, my things, dividing up the parts, the possessions one by one, deciding who gets this, do we donate that?

It was us – the best of us – how civil it was, how friendly it was, most of the time. Even while I pretended not to be dying inside, every minute of it, for both our sakes.

And, I will always be glad – glad that when I could have chosen to make it harder, or to do something rash – instead – I faced the consequences – by splitting up together – instead of breaking everything good apart.

 

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Audie and me: our engagement photo shoot in Solana Beach Sept. 2010 by Aaron Feldman

 

“Comes The Dawn”

After a while you learn the subtle difference

Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t mean security,

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head up and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today,

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong,

And you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn…

With every goodbye you learn.

Author: Veronica A. Shoffstall

 

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Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

The One Left Behind…

**Linda** (Name changed to protect privacy) said to me on Monday night, “You are always reading everything you can get your hands on. You want to understand what you did and why you did it and take responsibility for what you did, and that’s one of the things I like about you the best. But I think you might be reading too much information. I think you need to take a break and read something light. I think it’s great that you’re looking at your past trauma and abuse and searching for answers. It’s great that you want to know how you can do better. I love that about you – you always want to do better. But I’m going to send you a list of books that might be good for you to read – to take your mind off of the trauma – you are being so hard on yourself.”

I got the list of books in the email from **Linda** but when I was at Barnes and Noble last night with my 20% off coupon and my $50 gift card I received as a birthday gift, I didn’t buy one of the books.

I bought one of the other kind of books – the kind that helps me to understand – because I want to do better.

Even though it’s too late and there’s nothing I can do to change the past.

And even worse (I don’t know why I feel the need to confess this, but I do) – I sat down with a pile of letters he’d written me (two by hand, one typed from long ago), and all the cards I had (now all bound together with a rubber band) that I’d kept in various places in the house.

I started reading them. When I read the handwritten letters, I cried, no, I bawled – because of what it implied that I had done, or more specifically, what I’d said. I want so much to remember everything I said.

I can’t shake this guilt over the things I said that I did not mean, that I should never have said, when I was angry, or scared, or more accurately, in the throws of trauma – real or imagined – memory or current.

And then, there was one – one he left behind. One he did not keep:

I found the last wedding anniversary card from 2017.

I remember, now,  it was the one sitting on the table that he did not put away. And I picked it up, and I don’t remember what happened next.

But somehow, it has ended up in the stack of cards that he gave me, and I think, I must have found it, and thought, “I should save this.”

I’m glad I did.

It is the only one.

The one left behind.

The only one left – at all.

I am glad I have it, but now, I don’t know what to do, except I am glad – glad that I did not throw away mine. Glad that they are all still here. Glad that in one of the moments of deep pain – I did not suddenly throw them away.

Because when they are gone – thrown in a trash bag, and taken away, there is no turning back. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. Or in ten years.

If one day the sudden shift happens when we do not want to pretend we don’t remember. When we suddenly want to look back – if they don’t exist anymore, then we can’t.

I don’t want to forget the good things I did, and I don’t want to forget the bad, either.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I seem to feel compelled to understand my part in everything. I feel the need to make amends for anything and everything I have said or done, intentional or unintentional.

I realized, recently, that I had been so traumatized in my past, at so many different points, to different degrees, that somewhere along the way, I developed a fear of letting someone love me – meaning, afraid of letting him love me.

I had no idea.

And now, it’s too late to fix it.

I am having a hard time living with that. Every day feels like I am riding this wave of consequences – the pain is so heavy, it’s like I’m being pushed under the wave and can’t swim up to the top. The current is so strong. (This actually happened to me in real life when I was a young girl living in Los Angeles. I used to body surf and ride the waves and a gigantic wave pushed me under the water. I tried to swim to the top but I couldn’t. I remembered, thankfully, to stop fighting the current and let the wave pass above me and to stay still, letting it take me with it, until it was safe to paddle to the top).

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I was lucky, because people drown under waves like this one, but I held my breath, the wave crushed me, it shook me, it took control of my body, I was at its mercy.

But when it passed, and it was over, I was safe again.

I wanted so much to show him how much I loved him – because I loved him so much – he never realized how much, I’m sure. And now the cards that told him are gone.

I didn’t know how to show him, not in the way he needed me to – I thought I was, but it was not in the right way.

I told him recently that I was never able to move for anyone else.  It is true. My college boyfriend and I broke up after five years because he was moving to Phoenix, Arizona, and I did not want to leave San Diego.  Three years later, my long-distance boyfriend at the time broke up with me because I did not want to move to Las Vegas (we had never lived in the same city, we were set up by a mutual friend). He and I have always remained friends, and I’m grateful that we could eventually be friends – it does not always happen.

But, then, this was different.

In 2006, I made it back to San Diego after living in Santa Barbara for a year – it was not expected, and it was a wonderful experience, but I always knew I wanted to go back home. I’d spent that year healing from the worst breakup, the most traumatic of my life up to that point – but San Diego was home, and I had no intention of letting the heartbreak stop me from going back. I made it back, finally, on September 1, 2006.  My dad brought Toby back home to me that day, too. My dog and I had been living apart for that whole year – it was awful being separated.

I was home, and I promised myself I’d never leave again.

And then, on January 25, 2009, I met him.

One month and 3 days later, suddenly, everything changed – again.

I had a feeling, a strange feeling, almost a premonition, when I read the email he sent me on February 7, 2009, that I was going to marry this man.

I did.

And I did, because, I could not bear to live without him.

I knew I would have to leave San Diego again, even though I had promised myself in 2006 that I never would.

I really thought nothing could ever change that.

But one day, in late summer 2009, I said to him that, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you.”

I really said that.

And – I meant it.

To this day, even after losing him forever, I still feel that way.

But it was not what happened.  Or to be more accurate, sometimes, it was not what happened.

Sometimes I said I wanted to leave. Sometimes I said I wanted to go home.  Sometimes I even asked him, “When can we move?”

I thought I was ready. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be with him. I wanted it to work. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

But I couldn’t just do it.

I was so homesick. I felt so alone. So disoriented at times.

So locked into the head space of some long ago trauma, that I was listening, but I did not hear him. I thought I did. But then, I read the letters, and I realized, I was not hearing him.

The saddest irony in all that, is that one day, something clicked, and it changed. It shifted.

But, it was just too late.

Now I look around me and I can’t imagine going back to San Diego, or I don’t want to go back, and I think – I’ve changed too much. Being here has changed me. Living in Athens has changed who I am – for the better, oh, only for the better.

I am a creature of two places, two lives, one past, one present, and now I can’t just leap back 10 years and suddenly be the person I was as if I never knew him. As if I never loved him.

As if I could forget him.

I could never forget, and I don’t want to – it made me who I am, a better person who learned from him, from our marriage, from my mistakes – I learned more from my mistakes, than from what I feel that I did right.

I don’t know what to do with this card left behind.  I know it’s mine to keep, if I want to – but it is a reminder of the ones that are gone, the unwanted ones.

Most of all, it is a reminder of the ways I tried to say how I felt, to show how I felt, and somehow, I fell short. I must have.

I always loved him. Every minute. Of every day. Of every year. Even when I was far away, and he thought I did not want to be with him. I did.

Maybe, it’s best that I have this card, the last one, the one left behind, the last anniversary card, accidentally misplaced.

Thank goodness I found it.

I do not want to stop learning. I do not want to stop reading. Understanding. Studying.

Because although I may be the only one who knows how deeply and unconditionally I truly loved him, I know that I did. And always will.

I want him to be happy. Always.

I wish I could find that same self-compassion and forgive myself for not being perfect. For trying, and failing, to always show him and tell him exactly how much he meant to me, that I never wanted to go back, ever, no matter what.

That when I said, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine my life without you,” I meant every word. And always did.

I hope that someday, the wave stops crashing above me, that I can drift to shore, and land on my feet, stick my toes in the sand, dig in, and look out at that ocean behind me, without shame, without guilt, without regret. These waves that crash down on me – all three of them – are holding me back.

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I know this is where I am at right now, and if it is where I need to be, then I’m reading the right books, the ones I need to.

The more I read, the more I understand.  I know it seemed, sometimes, like I never knew him, but I did.

Even when I didn’t say the right things, or do the right things at the right time.

I carried him with me, everywhere – he became a part of me, and always will be.

This post is the prelude to one I am not sure how to write. I know I want to tell the story, but how to do it right, I’m not sure yet.

For now, I hope that someday, it won’t always hurt this much. I know it will always hurt.

My friend said to me on Monday, “The more the pain, the more real the love.”

This love – on that scale – was the epitome of the real thing. The most real love I’ve ever known, or ever will.

I can’t imagine ever throwing away these cards…

…I think I’ll keep the one that was left behind.

I always want to learn from this, to honor what I learned, to honor what he taught me, and to honor who I became –

For the better.

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"Me Too", ADD, Child Abuse, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

“Courage Does Not Always Roar…”

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“…Sometimes it comes in a quiet voice that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

 

When I was in my late twenties, I started collecting a lot of posters from the Successories store in University Town Center in San Diego. Some of them have been destroyed in one of my many moves since then, but a few have survived and now hang on the wall in my home: “Passion: Nothing in the world has ever been accomplished without passion,” “Perseverance: Our greatest glory lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall,” “Integrity: Integrity comes when character is tested; keep true and never be ashamed of doing what is right,” and…”Courage: You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” (This last one came directly from Aristotle and the quotation from Perseverance is my signature mark on this website because for years, that quote has sustained my resilience through my life’s hardest falls and seen me pick myself up and start over again through sheer will and…perseverance).

In 2017, a therapist that I saw a few times while I was searching for the right one on a permanent basis said to me, “The only way out of the pain is through it.”

That was the last thing I wanted to hear – who among us ever wants to hear that we have to walk through the physical, spiritual and emotional feelings of pain in order to exit on the other side and start over…from the beginning…when we never wanted to lose what ended in the first place?

But that’s how it is…I am finding out…the hard way.

The only way out of the pain is through it.

During one of the last visits I had with a counselor whom I miss greatly, she shared a story with me about two arrows: the first arrow that pierces the heart is the initial pain.

The second arrow…the one that does not have to be…comes from the suffering on top of the pain that we bring upon ourselves.

I know that the cure for the second arrow is radical acceptance…and breaking silence.

There is no one definition of courage – for some, the courage to be silent is as worthy as the courage to speak out.  Life is not black-and-white.

Neither is grief. Neither is healing.

Neither is the way out of the former onto the pathway to the latter.

I have realized, or learned (or both) in the last few years, but most acutely in this past year, that trauma hibernating in the dark corners of our memory – waiting to be awakened without warning, is a silent killer – it is not courageous, however, its remedy is the epitome of courage.

The problem is that trauma is stealthier than the most silent and cunning of predators, and make no mistake, trauma is a predator – of the worst kind. It lies in wait in the recesses of your brain – for years, sometimes for decades – and strikes before you ever have a chance to prepare yourself for it, much less fight back.

Trauma’s greatest ally is fear. Its adversary is breaking the silence.

Human beings, with the best of intentions and/or the primal instinct to protect ourselves, are unwitting perpetrators of keeping the silence.

Sometimes it is the individual. Sometimes it is within families.

Sometimes it is simply our unconscious brain trying to cope.

Recently, the TV sitcom, “Mom,” has brought the silent shame of adult women with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) into the spotlight, and I am so grateful to them for bringing this into the spotlight – if nothing else to bring those suffering in silence out of the darkness and out of their prison of shame.

Just like heart disease manifests itself differently in women than it does in men, so does adult ADD.

What was even more noteworthy and a revelation to me was tackling the connection between ADD and Trauma.

When I did further research later (to confirm it was not just sitcom writing for the bells and whistles of getting higher ratings), I discovered that it is true:

ADD manifests as a coping mechanism for surviving trauma.

I won’t get into all the details in the blog, not today at least, but I do encourage anyone who suspects they may have ADD (men or women, boys or girls) to read more and learn more.

I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders when I first read this and then I could not stop reading about it – I was starving for more knowledge, more explanations, more research and case studies to connect the missing pieces of how ADD and all its life-altering symptoms go back to the brain shielding itself from feeling the agony, the abyss of buried trauma.

In my last post, I referred to my past – to my childhood and adolescence, specifically – and that I am a trauma survivor, like so many other people out in the world who hide it, or try to, behind the face of normalcy and perseverance and yes…courage.

You may have heard the expression, “Be kind. For everyone you meet is experiencing pain you know nothing about.”

It may or may not be true about everyone you meet, at any given time, but I do believe, to one degree or another, it is true about everyone.

It is one reason I live by the idea of “there but for the grace of God go I,” and try to be compassionate to everyone, for, truthfully, I do not know what sorrows and what pain they bear behind their smiles, or frowns, or words.

I recently came to some realizations about myself, some of the most painful ones I have ever had to face, and from what I am reading, and have learned so far, the source of all of it is suppressed trauma, some of which I remember, some of which I don’t – and maybe, I never will.

Believe it or not I hope I do, for as I said in my last post, I know that the trauma has dictated – against my free will – things I have done and said that I wish I could take back, now that I understand, now that I know what I know now.

I wonder, if I were to share, if my speaking out, would help someone, anyone, to have the courage to do the same.

If nothing else, I do not feel that I owe it to the memory of the perpetrators, now deceased, to protect them, or what they did.

Some perpetrators are still alive, out there, and maybe they read this blog, maybe they don’t. I don’t really care. I no longer wish to be controlled by the fear of what they will do to me if I break my silence.

But for now, I will leave them alone, except I will say, about one of them, the one from 2006-2007, whom I found out no longer lives in San Diego (thank God) that: ever since the “Me Too” movement raised its voice in courage in 2017, I have felt the guilt of the previous decade rise to the surface, and that voice, “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you report what he did?” screaming at me again.

I know why I didn’t say anything.

I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

And I also knew, he was capable of killing me if I did.

How many women have felt that way?

How many children like me, were told, by an adult, a grown man – bigger, stronger, louder than us – that if we told anyone what he did to us, he’d kill us (or in my case, he would kill me and my mother).

I felt guilty about not reporting the man in San Diego because I knew that I was not the first and I knew that he would do it again, to other women.

When the “Me Too” movement came about, I actually tried to find out if I could report him – that’s how courageous I felt in the wake of the wave of women’s courage and their voices speaking out – and it was also how guilty I felt for not speaking out right away, when I knew where he was, and when I might have been the one to stop him from doing it again.

By the time my therapist had helped me unblock the trauma through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), the man who assaulted me in my bedroom when I was 6 years old – my mother’s boyfriend – in a home invasion – had been dead for many years.

He was also Jewish, like us. He was a doctor, a prestigious cardiologist. And he lived in Beverly Hills – a place most Americans know about because of pop culture and Hollywood.

And I was just a 6-year-old girl whose parents had recently divorced.

I still don’t remember everything that may have happened. But I remember most of it, more than I wish I did. And it’s the reason why, to this day, I’m terrified of strangers having access to my home.  Something that irreparably hurt my marriage  in the winter and spring of 2012.

But, I didn’t know I had post traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t know I was reliving the trauma of that home invasion – or, more accurately, the fear of it happening again – when all of a sudden a real estate agent threatened to give strangers free access to me and my home – one month after I’d moved to Georgia, before I’d even finished unpacking my boxes, much less gotten my land legs after the first relocation of my life, from San Diego, CA to Athens, GA.

Every day, I wish I could go back to that time and do things differently (which I would – knowing what I do now and why I could not stop the terror and the behaviors in me it triggered).

But, having opened the door to the effects of one trauma on the rest of my life, I have found the courage to face the other traumas, the ones I remember at least.

In other posts, I will speak out, in the newfound courage I am finding to break the silence, but for now, I will leave it with this:

If there are any little girls or little boys out there, who are afraid to speak out, to tell your parents, or anyone else, that someone has hurt you, please do not be afraid to tell someone.  There are people who care, who are there to help.

You do not deserve to lose your childhood, or any part of your life, to the fear of retaliation or any other abuse from someone who is such a coward that he or she would hurt an innocent child.

Trauma is the silent killer of truth and of happiness – do not be afraid to stand up to it and slay it through its heart.

Truth is your sword – trust that you are not alone.

Athens, Georgia, Dogs, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California, Uncategorized

Bringing Reggie Home

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Reggie’s urn

Where do the souls go when the dogs and cats are laid to rest? I wondered as I sat in the Memory Garden for Pets next to Toby’s grave.

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Toby’s gravesite in Memory Garden for Pets since October 25, 2011

Sounds of cars and birds and limbs falling. In the past several years, I have sat by this gravestone many times. My hand softly sweeping back and forth over the granite headstone, fingering the letters in his name, I’ve looked out at the field – at the myriad bouquets of flowers, marking other graves, at the  statues and the headstones, some upright, some flat.

Yet, today was the first time, in 7 1/2 years of visits to Toby’s grave, that it occurred to me: I am surrounded by souls of all the dogs and cats buried here.

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View of the Memory Garden

Shortly after Toby passed away at home, on the same dog bed that Reggie died upon last month, I saw Toby – walking in the bedroom – I swear – I did, or at least, I saw his ghostly spirit, but it was him. I have not seen Reggie’s spirit, here in the house, and because I saw Toby, when he died at home, I hoped I would also see Reggie’s ghost – but it has been 5 weeks today since Reggie died, and no signs yet. No ghosts walking in the hall, just his brown coat on my pillow – and his scent is beginning to fade, which pains my soul.

It is early, and maybe, I will still see Reggie’s ghost, some time – I know his soul is in the house, I can feel him, and Lizzie, but lately, mostly Reggie, as if his spirit follows me from room to room, much like he did when his body was here with me.

Saint Francis Assisi, the patron saint of animals, watches over the garden – his statue stands in the back, with dogs and cats around him, watching over all the gravestones, all the souls of dogs and cats long past, guarding them, like an angel.

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Last December, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bought a new bouquet of flowers in soft fall colors for Toby – it was long overdue. There used to be a bouquet of  pink spring flowers, already torn and weather worn after 5 years of exposure to rain, wind and sleet.

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I hear another storm is coming tomorrow – and there have been many other heavy rains since December – it is miraculous that this bouquet still remains untattered, the colors still as brilliant as they were the day I bought them at the 75% off clearance sale at Michael’s. Now that winter is almost over, there will surely be thunderstorms – as there are every spring and summer in Georgia, but hopefully, Toby’s new faux flowers will hold their own against the elements.

The first time I came here, to the Memory Garden, was October 24, 2011. I said goodbye to Toby that day – he’d made a long journey from California to Georgia, to what was meant to be his final resting place, or so I thought. I did not see him again until months later, in 2012, long after he was interred.

On that first visit in 2012, a butterfly landed on the granite stone. In that moment, I was certain the butterfly was Toby reincarnated – it comforted me to believe his soul had traveled into another creature’s body and followed me from San Diego to Athens. I didn’t tell many people this, but the hardest part about leaving San Diego, was not leaving my family and friends, as hard as that was, for I knew I’d see them again.

But, leaving that condo, where Toby had died, where I’d seen his spirit walk the floor of the bedroom into his closet hideaway, I was scared that I was leaving Toby’s spirit behind, and that I’d never see him again. I feared his soul would be abandoned there, in the condo, trapped, unable to follow me, as he always had, close behind, or beside, his human companion.

That was actually the one, inconsolable thing – the thing that gave me the most angst about leaving for Georgia – that I worried I could not fix.

My counselor, Alicia, told me to do something that may or may not have worked, if such things are even true. She said to go to the closet, where Toby used to hide when he was alive, and where he passed away, on the day before I left, and tell Toby to come with me. To follow me, out the door, into the car, and all the way to Athens.

She said if his spirit, if his soul, was still in the condo, that he would heed my call and follow me to wherever I went from there.

When I sit by Toby, I do feel his spirit there, in the grave, under the earth, and I am certain, in my mind, that his soul did follow me, that he is not trapped with strangers in my old home.

Was he the butterfly?  I don’t know, I will never know, but…since that first day, I’ve never seen a butterfly again,  just the ants crawling up my leg, and around the edges of the granite – and inside the crevices of the letters and numerals carved into the stone.

 

Time stands still when I’m with Toby. Usually I talk to him, but having just retrieved Reggie’s urn and plaster paw print and pieces of his brindle fur, sealed in plastic, I am speechless.

The need for silence overcame me, as if I were at Reggie’s funeral, or maybe, I just had nothing to say.

Before I came to sit by Toby’s grave, I met with Mr. Myers in his office.  After he greeted me and expressed his condolences in the compassionate way only he can, he handed me the black and white bag with black paw prints. Inside it there was a large package, the urn, a smaller package, the paw print, and a large envelope with paper certificates commemorating Reggie’s passing, including one with a golden tag, signifying that Reggie had been cremated and ensuring his cremains were being returned to me.

I did not read the documents until I got home, later, after I placed Reggie’s urn and plaster paw print by his framed photo, a gift from Suzanne, and the clay paw print Dr. Stoppe and Tristan made shortly before they put him to sleep. When I sat by the memory table, as I now call it, I took out the certificates and read them. Mr. Myers had accidentally used my last name, Hartmann, instead of Roberts, for Reggie, but no matter. Hopefully on Audie’s certificates, the name, Reggie Roberts, was listed correctly.

Either way, the sadness of losing him came down to pieces of paper, an urn, two paw prints, a photo, and a vacancy no other dog can fill.

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In loving memory of Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts

Before I left Mr. Myers’s office to visit Toby in the garden, he and I had an awkward, albeit, brief, conversation I’d been putting off for a long time, since last August, but now that I was here, for Reggie, I knew it was time to ask him what I’d been needing to ask.

I asked Mr. Myers (stumbling through the words): was there a way for me to take Toby with me? I told him that I had never expected I would leave, or at least, I never thought about leaving when I first came here, and now here I was, faced with the possibility of leaving later this year, or perhaps in a year, or two, who knows, but nevertheless, most likely, sometime not too far in the future.

As the years have passed, since I came to Georgia, I hoped I would not leave, and that Toby also could stay, here, in Athens, but now that I know that dream has died, I cannot bear to leave Toby here when I go…and that was what I told Mr. Myers, that I could not bear to leave Toby behind, because, I was not sure if I would ever come back, and to leave Toby forever…was unthinkable (that last part, I did not say out loud).

Mr. Myers listened, quietly, and then he said, “Let me see if I can rephrase your question.”

He said, in his own words, that I was wanting to know if I would be able to take what was left of Toby with me when I leave, was that something he could do, and he said the answer was, “Yes, that is something I can do.”

Relief – I did not ask about the expense, I was too afraid to find out right then, but at least, I knew it could be done.

He said that Toby could be sent to me, but when I asked about the stone, he said if it was mine I could have it, but that it would be very expensive to ship. I told him I had bought the stone, but could I just take it with me, and not ship it? His answer to my original question slightly changed. He told me to give him two weeks’ notice, when I was ready, and I could take Toby and the stone with me, as I requested. He said he needed two weeks because of the weather, which is often wet and exhuming a grave in the mud was not something they wanted to do.

Holding onto Reggie, what was left of him (divided by two), was all my heart could take that afternoon, and yet, I still had to ask: what about the shirt and blanket I’d buried with Toby? Mr. Myers said I would not be able to take those with me, too (I could tell he was hesitant to tell me for a moment, but then he came out, and finished my sentence). “Because they would be too icky…” I said, and he added, “Yes, they would be icky.”

I get so busy with the business of life, I don’t come to visit the Memory Garden as often as I planned, or have wanted to. But when I am there, and time stands still, I feel closer to God, and to Toby, as I lay my hand on the stone, the protector of the sanctuary that shields what remains of the body of my beloved, my first dog.

Losing Lizzie and Reggie so recently, and so close together, has made the memory of Toby’s loss, however vivid, seem so much farther back in time than it did for these last several years. Somehow, now, after losing Lizzie and Reggie,  it is easier to sit in the field of souls than it is to kneel in front of the two urns and framed photos and paw prints spread in a row along the wooden table.

I feel their souls, all the time, and I miss them, all the time. Sometimes, it is so intense, the reality that both of them are gone, that all of a sudden, I simply can’t breathe.

I am tired. I am tired of grief.  I have had enough of grief. I am beginning to forget what it felt like, what life felt like – before the grief – life is divided into the time before, and the time after – the former being the time when all three of them were still alive.

The clouds are gathering now, the sun is hidden behind the trees, the light is dwindling – time to go. If the souls should follow me out of the garden, over the footbridge, into the car and out the open gate onto the highway, all the better. I’d be happy to take the souls of the dogs and cats laid to rest in this beautiful garden with me wherever I go.

Either way, they will be waiting for me next time I come to visit Toby.

When I got home, I carefully took Reggie’s urn out of the package and set it on the table beside his picture. I removed the paper protecting the plaster paw print and gently set it on the picture stand beside the urn.

And then, I sat, for a long time, staring. Just staring. At Lizzie. At Reggie.

Reggie has come home, home to rest beside his Lizzie…home to stay.

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