Glass Orb

If you gaze into a solid glass orb, you’ll notice that the whole world appears upside down.  It’s disorienting, confusing, and in the palm of your hand it’s even sort of fun. But if you wake one day and everything appears to be that way, as though instead of gazing into that glass orb you are trapped inside staring out at everything you knew, only it’s all upside down, turned around and backwards. All the things you thought to be true and real are now all wrong, something changed and what once was is now no longer.

You ever feel like you go to the kitchen and everything you try and pick up spills or tips and you can’t seem to hold onto anything right. Or maybe nothing is where you normally set it, your keys aren’t on the table by the door, or on the hook in the hall but instead are in the dining room, or your shoes are in the living room and not by the door to the garage, as though you suddenly forgot where everything is?

Maybe you begin to doubt your reality, maybe everyone else’s reality seems different than yours, when did things change, how did they change? Why? The very words you use are no longer appropriate, relationships change and you feel like you must have been asleep for months or years or you woke up in some reflection of your own life accept that everything is just the opposite of what it was. It makes no sense and you can’t quite wrap your head round it, one day you knew how things worked and the next it’s like you totally forgot and all you can do is stand there like you don’t speak the language and nothing makes any sense and everyone else looks at you with different eyes, you run to the bathroom to look in the mirror to check and you see the same person you’ve seen all along.

It feels like a nightmare that never ends, it just keeps rolling on and tortures your mind, wrenches at your soul and tears at your heart, day after day, week after week, year after year and it’s no longer your keys that are missing, but it’s your children, one by one they suddenly look at you as though you’re the devil and they just disappear without a word, they walk away and you can’t seem to catch up to them as though your legs don’t work any longer and eventually you lose sight of them and they’re just gone.

Its like a scar or a tattoo in the end, one you didn’t want, and you can’t shake it because it’s always there, when you wake up, when you go to bed. When every holiday comes round, or you smell a smell that reminds you of the days when you sat on the couch with your young child propped up on your lap, and you’d lean in and close your eyes and breathe in the aroma of innocence and trust, with your lips pressed against their soft, silky hair.

It’s like the absence of light on a sunny day, it doesn’t make sense, and its always cold, a cold that’s forever there, just under the surface.

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The Bad Guy

There is always a bad guy and a good guy in every story, it’s the very existence of which, can make for a good read. It is possible that a single character can be both, or that the bad guy is an element or idea the Protagonist forms a front against. Like in the Never Ending Story the antagonist is the Nothing, it’s a non-existence, a lack of good that the protagonist fights against. They are elements we are taught to believe in from a very early age; as babies we aren’t born with the idea that anyone is bad, but soon thereafter we learn not to trust certain others, that our parents, in most cases are the good guys.

When my children were small I propagated that myself; I taught them that if they ever were lost to look for someone in a uniform like a police officer, because they are the “good guys”. I taught them never to trust someone they did not know, strangers are bad guys, right away they learned to fear what they did not know, and strangers are bad because you don’t know them or anything about them. It may be an unfortunate lesson but one I believed would serve them better than simply trusting everyone. And sometimes we as people may go so far as to convince them of that truth by making things up that aren’t or haven’t exactly been proven, or by lumping them in with others who’ve wrong us.

An author may work so hard trying to convince the reader that a certain character is the very antagonist that they take away the opportunity for the reader to make up their own minds, based on the strength of character of that person in the story, by demonizing the person they want so badly to portray as the antagonist they can put less energy into proving why the protagonist is the good guy. It seems to me we see this daily in politics, and in social media; by making someone else look so bad it can make me look better, it seems to be the basis of every campaign strategy.

As the audience or reader we are left with the daunting task of trying to filter through all of it to try and form our own unadulterated opinion, that’s not always an easy task, and for children it can be even harder, who do I believe, who must be the bad guy, maybe it’s the one I know less about, if even what I think I know about the other person is solely what they’ve told me. The quickest way to proving one is the good guy is by portraying them as a victim, suddenly as the victim the strength of their character is no longer a major consideration; a victim must always be protected and supported.

During my previous marriage I learned that even men can become a victim of abuse, even if it is just verbal abuse and I don’t mean to say that anyone whom suffers under verbal abuse is hurt any less than someone who may suffer physical abuse, it is all relative and it can all be just as abusive and destructive. For years I never saw it, I may have felt it but I was reared not to complain, as a man I was taught to suffer through things or I might be considered a wimp, a pussy. It wasn’t until late in my marriage when I realized that if I had witnessed one of my daughters in a relationship with someone who verbally abused them or neglected them I would have most certainly stepped in, I would have attempted to save them from such abuse. Then I thought about my son and wondered if I would do the same for him. Then I looked at myself in a mirror one day, and in the lines in my face, in the shadows in my eyes I saw someone I might save if he were not a guy. How sexist of me.

In many abuse cases the abuser, the antagonist usually treats only their partner or child abusively. I had a cousin who was verbally abused intensely; her spouse treated his extended family respectfully, but would tease my cousin, his wife from time to time in front of them, it grew til he constantly teased and degraded her in front of their friends and then their children. Then he began getting her drugs, and in what I can only assume was an attempt to soften the proverbial blow she began taking them. Once she was hooked he would tell people and this made her look, to her friends, family and children that she was bad because she was a drug addict. By making her look like a bad mother and friend it made it easier for him to portray her as the bad guy and him as the victim; the poor guy who had to take care of their kids all alone. That worked of course until she committed suicide, then the lines between antagonist and protagonist became blurred, who is the victim now, the kids? Was it her or could it be him? He may also be considered the savior for their children; it makes for a complex dilemma for the reader to sort through.

My marriage had essentially ended a year or two before the divorce, I wanted to renew our vows but she did not, she said she would never do that. I had known for some time that the marriage had failed, we had tried for so many years despite our growing in different directions, we had gone to counseling and with each one at some point my wife made the decision that that counselor was the wrong one for us. The verbal abuse had grown too, it was at the point where whenever we would join our friends for dinner and my wife would drink, she began to tease me, and it would start out with her poking fun at my strange sense of humor, that it didn’t make sense. By the end of dinner she was making derogatory remarks about my political views or how I would tear up at the start of the national anthem but not when each of my kids was born, finally joking about my inability to perform sexually. When we argued she would get into my face, yelling, cursing and even threatening me. This all may sound like I can’t handle myself, like I may just be complaining, as though I might need to “grow a pair”, but for someone whose never been in this situation to this extent, woman or man, it can grow and fester like a disease, I was already suffering from PTSD and this compounded my issues, emotionally and mentally it was destructive.

Eventually this would take place in other social situations, in front of her family and in front of our own children. She constantly spoke down to me in front of the kids and blamed any discrepancy in communication on my apparent inability to communicate successfully; mind you, my job, my career is centered around my teaching folks how to navigate complex programs and communicating with employees’ throughout the world from Japan to Mexico and here in the US. I am good at it and have been for over twenty years. I am a project manager and an Engineering Coordinator. Then she decided to quit having sex with me altogether, she said she just couldn’t do it and wouldn’t until we were in a better place and that went on for over a year.

We had begun counseling once again, we were attending our own sessions but then we would also attend a group session with an additional marriage counselor as well, two counselors and my wife and I. In these sessions my wife would begin being verbally confrontational and outright abusive. The counselors would address that behavior and suggest she change it, speak more appropriately. This began to happen in each session and be carried through in our home again. By this time I felt as though I couldn’t do it any longer. I had reached the end of my patience, I knew that we each had our own issues from the past, our own skeletons and demons to fight; mine stemmed from physical and sexual abuse as a child, Post-Traumatic Stress Dysfunction from the military when I was overseas too. She had her own but always made it a point to state outright how I was the issue; the thing that needed fixing, that she was not the problem.

In many successful stories the author recognizes the value of arguing for and against what makes the antagonist and protagonist exactly that, why is he/she bad, why should you, the reader consider whether or not the bad guy is such or whether or not the good guy really is a good guy.  What is it that makes them such; the author may go so far as to leave some ambiguity in those roles so as to leave it up to the reader to make those distinctions themselves, this lends to a much more intriguing and entertaining read. And the writer becomes less of a preacher per say and more of an objective story teller.

Finally one day I wrote a letter to my wife, I stated that I could no longer take her verbal abuse, that I thought it was not only inappropriate in front of our children but also down right damaging to the relationship I had with them and that if she were to promise to quit treating me in that manner, to stop being verbally abusive that I would stick around for a year to see if we can make things work. Her immediate and only response to that letter was…”how dare you call me abusive!” She never, at that time or any thereafter asked me why I would say such a thing, why was it I felt that way? She never addressed that situation but instead turned it around to me and accused me of calling her something she was not, that I was “a horrible person for having said such a thing” about her.

Later, when I finally stated, during a counselling session after my then wife ranted in a verbally abusive manner, and after the counselors’ having had to stop and correct her, that I had decided to be done, that I no longer could deal with her abuse, that for my own mental and emotional well-being and that of the relationship between me and our children, knowing very well that I may be the bad guy for doing so, I could not stay married to her and decided then and there to seek a divorce. It scared the hell out of me, saying those words, we had been married for over twenty years and I had just made that decision and truth be told, even after that in a corner of my mind up until standing in front of the judge, I still held out some measure of hope that things would suddenly change, if for no other reason than to save months if not years of emotional distraught from affecting my kids.  It was the single most difficult thing I had ever done; I had entered villages ruled by hordes of people whom hated me and whose mission it was to kill me on sight when I was overs seas with less fear than I had in the counselors office that day.

At that moment I was both the antagonist and protagonist; the bad guy and the victim, don’t get me wrong, I was not the only victim and in this situation there are always many victims. My sisters and I were children during my own parents’ divorce, in fact as a child I lived through three divorces. So my kids, my young daughters and my son would be trying to figure out how to feel, whom they ought to side with after all its only natural to assume roles on both parents, as children we taught them right and wrong, good and bad and now they are faced with a situation in where someone must be a victim, someone must be the bad guy.

This is something we as readers all end up doing near the end of the story, we simply cannot close the book without a clear thought as to whom filled those roles, we may struggle and we may even feel bad for the antagonist, we may judge the protagonist harshly but we need to, more times than not draw a clear line, assume those roles so that we can better understand how we feel about the characters, it makes it easier to accept how things are, we can figure out how to move on more easily. It’s the basis for our judicial system, how many times have you heard of a case where at the end the judge stands and says…”so here is the deal you are both wrong, there are no victims and there are no hero’s here, so let’s call it a draw and move on.” Instead, someone must pay; someone must have the finger pointed at them. Suddenly on social media my ex-wife was the victim, she was raising her children all alone, as a single mother.

I found a place where I felt safe, a friend from a writing group where I found solace in troubled times, a space I could spew out all that hurt me, that caused my greatest pain, my secrets and my haunts to no judgement from those I shared my experiences with. So when I needed someone to listen, to bounce my troubles off of, my friend was there without discrimination, she was there for me. That relationship turned quickly into something more involved after my divorce, I was not looking to get involved in another relationship and at the time I had actually swore to myself I would not get into a serious relationship or married again. Hell, I had nothing to offer anyone anyhow, financially since I had been married for twenty years the state decrees that my ex-wife would get a percentage of my income. And let me make things clear, I argued to stay with the kids in the house and let her leave to pursue her own desires, after all, she had stated a couple years before the divorce how much she missed dating since we had married so young and how much she regrets doing things the way she did, she regrets “wasting so many years.” Her response was to state that “a mother never leaves her children”. So I left, I had nowhere to go, couldn’t afford anywhere else and moved in with my friend.

Occasionally in a story the writer can rely on cultural expectations or assumptions to deliver a message or feeling about a character, this may depend on the writer’s chosen audience, if the content is political the writer can suggest that a character belongs to a certain party in order to guide the reader to a specific assumption. Sometimes it doesn’t hinder on the audience, if a character has a history of serving time in prison, even without knowing the basis for his or her conviction that person must be a bad person, at least initially, it puts the burden on the reader to determine at some point if that is really the case. And it is a given that in most places one only has to mention that a man whose left the home of his family and is involved with a younger woman after that, that he must be a bad guy and was tired of his older ex-wife, people might assume that the ex-wife was innocent and he is a jerk.

After my ex-wife and I divorced, people we had befriended through our children’s school suddenly turned away from me at school functions when I attempted to say hi. Assumptions had been made, whether through social media or other means, despite the fact that I still supported my ex-wife and my children by paying more than the state suggested for both child support and spousal support, covered my kids health insurance, having put additional funds away to cover co-pays and other extra costs for medications and all medical fees, cover the kid’s car insurance outright and even decided to sign over my half of our home to my ex-wife to ensure that the kids were able to remain there and have some sort of normality by retaining the safe place where they had all grown up. I still seemed to come off as the jerk. In the end, more than a third of my income went to the support of my ex-wife and my children, half of my 401K was written over to her and I had to find another place to live and get a second job to support myself and have my children over every other weekend.

Never mind that I no longer got to have breakfast with my kids before work and school, be home when they got there to talk about the tough times and the struggles, if they didn’t already assume I did something wrong and chose to leave them and their mother behind they seemed to struggle with whom to rally around, for them, their mother would appear to play the victim card and set a scene wherein she was wronged. It is difficult for others to accept that from time to time there are no clear lines, that everyone loses in some cases, that there is no clear or obvious person to blame. That is not an easy place for folks to be in, it is uncomfortable and emotionally taxing, and especially for children so sides must be chosen to better deal with the situation. It might not seem fair and it most certainly is not, for anyone, and as my mother use to tell me as a kid…”life isn’t fair kid, get over it”.

I told my counselor when I decided that I no longer could remain married to my ex-wife, that her and my relationship had gone sour and I grew bitter and angry as time went on, and the only way I saw to save my relationship with my children was to leave my ex-wife that I could accept being the bad guy. I knew my kids would hold it against me; I had been there myself as a kid and blamed my father for many years even though I knew my mother had cheated on him. My father must have done something wrong I thought.  So I would leave my ex-wife and pray that I could save my relationship with my son and daughters. There is a saying that reads “if I knew then what I know now”, I hate that saying now, and I writhe at the sound of it when someone repeats it. If I knew then what it would feel like to wake up in the morning without my children asleep in my home, without being able to hold them when they have a bad day, without the opportunity to be there when my son’s heart is broken by his first major crush, I am afraid I would not have made the decision I did, that’s a hard thought to swallow.

I am no longer an angry person, I have moved on and married my friend from the writing group, and I love her as I have never loved anyone. I feel like I am part of a team, a partner entirely. I still miss my children terribly; it’s all I can do when I see them to not beg for their forgiveness, when I see the misguided mistrust in their young eyes, and feel the absence of safety when I hug them. I am suspicious of what their mother tells them when they go back home, or what my ex-best friend says to them as he sits at the table and eats dinner with them and desert, but that’s none of my business. I must trust that one day they will understand or at the very least give me the benefit of doubt. And I have had to learn to live with that constant, emotional pain that comes along with thinking of my kids, and wishing I could have somehow kept them from living through this situation, hoping that they don’t see me as society might write me off as. That I am still the man that helped rear them, that still loves every aspect of their different, beautiful ways.

Every now and again there is a story we might read, one wherein we might categorize the characters and walk away feeling quite strongly about them and the roles we placed them in, but then as we live, as we go about our lives, day by day we might remember that story and for some reason we suddenly feel different about the characters we remembered, and it changes how we feel about them today. To that I can only hope, and for now, I suppose I’ll remain the bad guy.

The Strange Presence of a Man

Every morning he awakes in a strange home, he showers in a strange bathroom, he brushes his teeth and shaves the face of a strange person, there is something recognizable about the guy staring back at him through the mirror, as though he’d known him a long time ago. He makes his coffee and eats his breakfast and goes to work. He spends 8 to 10 hours a day working at the same place he has for the last 16 years. When the business day is over, he gets into the same car he’s driven for years and travels a strange route to the strange home he goes to sleep in every night.

When he remembers things, when he smells certain things that spark echoes of experiences past, the feelings attached to those echoes, seem different, they seem almost false, like they belong to someone else. As he gets out of his car and walks to the strange mail box to get his mail, his shadow keeps step, but it is only reminiscent of his self, even his shadow seems strange. When he lies down at night, in his huge strange bed, as he closes his strange eyes he begins to dream, in which he is always standing at the helm of a small ship, like a long sailboat. He stands gripping the cold teak wheel in his hands that never feel strange in his dreams. Looking out over the bow of his craft, he can’t see through the thick fog, as he glances side to side now and again he catches glimpses of shoreline both port and starboard but never fore and aft.

In his dreams he never questions where he is going, he just keeps moving, and the fog collects on his cheeks and rolls down his neck in clean, translucent droplets before soaking into his shirt collar. The only sound being that of the otherwise still, quiet water as it washes along the hull of his boat and forms a settling wake off the stern. There is an air of patient excitement for what lies ahead in the cool, bright, enveloping whiteness, and as he turns to look back there is an unsettling notion of darkness that stains the fog left behind. There is no strangeness here on this vessel; there is no pain, no sadness, and no loneliness. There is just present time, an existential existence, a sentiment of being present for the sake of it.

And so he dreams, and when he wakes, he opens his strange eyes, sits up and stands at the window and looks out at the strange tree in the backyard. There is no boat, no vessel to quietly drift upon, and as strange noises slowly collect in his ears, so does pain and loneliness and fear followed by desire, and hope and a sense of wonder and desperation.

Open Wounds

Open wounds

The drive home is a long one, slow goin’ and frustrating stuck in heavy traffic barely edging along. His eyes began to wander to trees along the side of the highway, there was a squirrel running the branches from tree to tree, making better time than he was in his old truck. It began to seem as though every time he stepped on the gas the car in front of him hit their brakes and gal in the car next to him was applying lipstick as though she was tracing a Rembrandt. Since his move he made this trek every day, lately just to get to a Park n Ride so he could wait around to catch a shuttle to his work. It was a study in stress management and futility.

Today however he kept thinking of his sweet little girl and his son lying on the couch when he got home. He’d get there, fix a snack and take his girl to softball practice, and then they might go home and play cards or have a fire in the back yard. It wouldn’t exactly be like old times, before the divorce but it’d suit him just fine; in fact he looked forward to it. There’s something special about a man hugging his son, hugs are beautiful anyway but there’s certain fragility about a shared hug between father and son. Ever since the divorce he’s felt like he was lost, like he was driving in a thick fog, everything was different now and he’d have to figure out new ways to operate, to make things work between his kids and him. It wouldn’t be easy and he knew it. But he had the most wonderful gal he’d met and fell in love with since the end of his marriage; some say it might have been too soon, some outright stated as much but what can you do when your heart begins to keep time with someone else’s, between the two of them they were right. They both needed mending and they shared some of the same scars and injuries’ from previous lives, they understood each other and knew they didn’t want to be apart.

How much hurt can one heart take, how many times can it be stopped before it fails to start again?

As he pulled around the corner in the rain he saw his son’s car idling in the street, he was just pulling away. He pulled up next to his car and rolled down the window, his son rolled his down and sheepishly looked away. “Hey where are you going bud?” he asked him. His son looked up through the rain and said that his mom told him and his sister to go home since their dad had to work and no one would be home all day with them. His sister had been picked up earlier and his son said that he was supposed to call his mom; he said he was sorry and that he had to go. He rolled up the window and pulled away as the rain poured in over his door. He sat there in the street, the rain seemed heavier and the clouds appeared to grow darker. It felt as though his heart just stopped. This was supposed to be the beginning of a full week with his kids, sure he had to work during the day, the kids were out of school for the summer and he just couldn’t take the vacation. But he planned on eating dinners with them, maybe some ice cream before bed, play a little Ping Pong or Rummy Five Hundred. Then he’d see his daughter to bed and kiss her goodnight. Back in the day he used to have breakfast with her before he’d leave for work, it was a special time for him and one he used to cherish.

But today he sat in his truck, and watched the tail lights of his son’s car fade away in the falling rain. Today there would be no hugs, no kisses. No snuggles. He tried to breathe but it felt as though his heart just laid there in the bottom of his chest. And loneliness crept in closely and took his hands, they began to feel swollen and warm as he spread mortar on the bricks at his feet, the bricks seem to get heavier every time this wall gets built he thought. And he struggled to get it done quickly, his mind was awash in a heavy dose of pity and when he heard his ex-wife’s voice on the phone telling him the kids needed a parent, not an empty house, that they needed someone to care for them and love them he reached for a big swig of rage, he swallowed it and it built inside of him like a blustery fall wind and exploded from his mouth, he threw the phone down, and cleared the counter of something else before storming out the house. He’d walk I the rain, letting it soak his clothes, and his face, he’d walk it off, pushing it back down where it belongs.

How much hurt can one heart take, how many times can it be stopped before it fails to start again? Before it finally just lays there at the bottom of the cage, feeling sorry for itself, bleeding from its re-opened wounds

 

 

At the Bottom of the Box

He brushed aside the un-ironed shirts and work pants hanging in his closet, pants to the right and shirts to the left. There on the beige carpeted floor against the blandly painted back wall sat a box, a very ordinary box, one that new reams of printer paper might come packaged in. He stood and looked at it for a while, the noises in his head of the birds chirping outside and the airplanes flying over head and the cars driving through the parking lot, splashing through every pothole on their way out turned to static.

He really wasn’t thinking, just had a feeling he needed to pull it out, he couldn’t actually assign a purpose to it, these days he doesn’t really know why he does things, he is living on two planes, one with his live in girlfriend and the other with the ghosts of his past. Both want his attention, they wait for him at the end of the day and whisper to him in his ears, it seems lately he can’t play his music loud enough. He goes to the gym and tries to lift away all the voices in his head, he grunts under his breath, pushes away the weight from his repeatedly but it just keeps coming back to him like flies on a rotting corpse, consuming his flesh bit by bit. When he can’t fight it any longer he showers and scrubs at his swollen skin.

Then it’s back to work and he forgets about everything for a while as he investigates program issues at his desk. He spends the next few hours like he did before the gym, searching for clues among clues among long strings of code that don’t seem to make any sense just hoping to trip over something that doesn’t quite seem as convoluted as everything else.

Back at his closet he looks over the box sitting at his feet, its edges are crushed and worn edges. There is a tear or two in the top and old tape along the sides. He lifts the box onto his bed and pauses as if he is standing at the entrance to a dark alley. Then he pulls the lid off, inside there are papers, it doesn’t look unlike every other banker’s box in peoples closets, ones that might hold last year’s taxes, old college essays, maybe an old book with torn corners that’s meant to be re-read again. But this box is different, there are things among those papers and books and essays that speak to him like murmuring from someone standing behind him in the shadows.

Among the dusty things there are hopes and imaginings, they are clean and fresh despite their age, they were placed there years ago when he was much younger, when he still dreamed of far off places he would go with someone much different than his girlfriend, there are lost dreams at the bottom that got buried by certificates and degrees and old manila envelopes with the words taxes and some other year crossed out and below it written vacation or minivan or fifth grade softball and some summer track program. And there’s a hand written list on a smallish note pad; it has categories and mileage and notes about campgrounds somewhere far away. In one corner there is an old receipt, written in pen and at the bottom signed by him and his ex-wife, at the top, the name of an old pop-up camper. Suddenly his eyes begin to water; the corners fill quickly and over flow, sending streams of liquid down over his cheeks. He can smell the linoleum and the weathered, mildew stained canvass. He closes his eyes and sees his oldest daughter staring up at him as she tries to lift tongue of the camper to help him hook it up to the trailer hitch. Her eyes clenched shut and her mouth pursed in a crooked smile. Then he turns to see his other daughter and his son jumping from one bed to the other inside the camper and his heart breaks because he knows that was long ago and when he opens his eyes everything is different, and the only thing staring back at him now is the ancient box of lost dreams he still keeps.

It’s a strange feeling, holding a bunch of dreams and memories that seem so empty, the purpose is gone, and they seem senseless and desperate now. There is no place for them here, the pages are faded and discolored with the sour taste of pain. A melancholy wave washes over him and he feels incredibly dejected. As he puts the lid back on the static in his head seems to slip away slowly and when he tries to lift the box from the bed it appears heavier than before. He struggles with it as he walks from his apartment down the dark halls filled with strange smells and descends the cold stairs to the back door. He stands at the dumpster a long while and as it begins to rain his eyes fill again, so he lets the box slip from his calloused hands and fall away. The murmuring in his ear fades and loneliness creeps in holding his hand like an old friend he doesn’t quite trust but desires to hold onto.

French Toast and Popeye

I sat down at the dining room table I made by hand from old lumber last year so I had something for my kids to eat on when they came over to my apartment. My girlfriend sat down across from me, she passed me a glass of milk to wash down my thick cut French toast sliced from a loaf of bread she made earlier that day. I am proud of my French toast recipe; my kids would swear there was something more than the eggs and milk and cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and molasses in it, some secret ingredient that I snuck into the bowl when they weren’t looking. I made it for them every Sunday morning before I moved out.

Today however my girlfriend and I are having French toast for dinner, we couldn’t decide on a late meal so I cut the bread about two inches thick, when it was done I spread real butter on it then laid a fresh over easy egg on top and poured real Maple syrup over the whole lot. Then I added some coconut flakes and pecan chips at the last minute. It was quiet in the apartment, the sun was falling behind the building across from ours and I crossed my hands in front of me and asked to say grace.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen I started. I said grace for our food and then thanked God for my family; for my kids, for my job, for my apartment and for my ex-wife. Then I closed again with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen. I hadn’t planned on saying anything beyond grace, but when the moment came I just kept going and out spilled the words incidentally. When I looked up and across the table, my girlfriend was staring at me. “Did you hear what you said” she asked with a slightly surprised look in her dark eyes. I paused for a moment and reflected in my head on the words that I uttered in prayer and told her that yes I heard it. I thanked God for my ex wife.

It’s a difficult thing to divorce. Especially when there are children involved, mine were ages nineteen, sixteen, fourteen and eleven, I don’t suppose it’s easy no matter how young or old you are even as the parent. I know I’ve spent more time crying and trying to dissuade myself from entering a loathsome downward spiral into anger and bitterness than thanking God for and recognizing the things that I have. I don’t consider myself very religious, spiritual sure, my mother had a thing against formalized religion, but I do pray, I recognize a much higher power than myself and whether or not it is true, whether or not it’s all fairy tale it makes me feel better and more at ease.

Anyway I was thinking about my life and the turns it has taken, and I have plenty I could feel bitter about, plenty I could allow to pull my shoulders down and cloud my mind with rank regret. But then I think about all of the things I love in my life, all of the elements that color my world and make me feel proud and loved and lucky to be alive so that I may enjoy every bit of it, I see all that makes me who I am, I see my girl friend sitting across from me at the table I built, I see pictures of my wonderful children  who love to come over and enjoy our company, I see my ex-wife in their faces and I know that no matter how things may have turned out, I might not be who I am today, and my children wouldn’t be who they are if not for my ex-wife’s presence in my life and for that I must say thanks when I sit down at my table, especially on Thanksgiving this year.

Like the great corn cob, pipe toting philosopher once said “I am who I am and that’s all that I am”. I am a  product of everything that’s happened and come and gone in my life, I haven’t let it spoil me and I haven’t allowed it to ruin me either, I drink when it rains and sing when it thunders. I am a theatrical performance laid out on stage in an old dusty hall, everyone in my life has played a part and without any one of them it wouldn’t be the crowd pleaser it is today. I may be speaking with a sarcastic tongue, but the landscape changes with all that rises and falls and that’s how the world works, that’s how lives are shaped and honed. I am grateful for today and the man I am today and that’s where my thought process is this holiday season.

When the Strange Becomes Familiar

For those of us whom like things familiar, who like things that are the same, drastic change can be disruptive emotionally. It’s similar to when a relative dies and after a year the image of them in your mind begins to fade just a little, like the sun at the end of a winter day. And that can be scary; it can be emotionally difficult to swallow. I think that’s why we value pictures so much in our society.

For those of us who’ve gone through a divorce after 20 years of being married, whether or not it’s amicable, 20 years of familiarity is disturbed, things change fast and the environment you operate in afterwards is completely different. When you wake up in the morning you look through a different mirror, you sleep in a different bed, and you eat at a different table than you did before. You may not even fully recognize the person staring back at you in the mirror. Your world has changed and will never be the same, and regardless your psyche has a difficult time accepting that. There may be days when you drive home and realize it’s no longer your home and you must re-route, when the season changes and you realize you won’t be raking the yard or pruning the gardens or tuning up the snow blower anymore.

All of this is strange and new, but after a year, all the strangeness becomes familiar and the familiar begins to fade just a little. Going home to your apartment, eating at a different table and sleeping in a different bed with a strange light peering through the curtains starts to become the new familiar. When that happens, after so many years of the same, you begin to mourn the past. You become sad when you think of that spot in the den you have been meaning to repair, or you look around your apartment and miss the molding you worked so hard on cutting and mounting. You no longer get to sit out on that patio, close your eyes, feel the fall breeze caress your face and listen to the birds perched far above you in the old Maple tree on Sunday mornings, because it’s no longer your space.

Your new space becomes familiar and safe, and it’s yours and it’s different and it might even be exciting, but you still miss some of the old, and mourn it. So one day on your way home from work, you know no one’s at the old house, so you drive by for old time’s sake, you pause and look at the yard, the gardens you worked so hard to construct, the flowers and the plants you loved and cared for are slowly dying and getting choked out by weeds and becoming overgrown and it makes you sad, and you weep. You know you must let it go, it’s no longer yours, it belongs to someone else, they are not your shoes sitting on the patio any longer and even the rake leaning against the side of the garage is new and unfamiliar.

20 years is a long time to watch fade away into the distance, to let drift away with the rain water rolling over the curb out front, past the un-kept, overgrown garden on the boulevard. Your heart aches, your stomach becomes upset and your vision grows blurry…must be the rain. And yet, when the clouds separate, and the sun pours over you, you realize the world is bigger than that one space, you know now that it is possible to move on and to grow and evolve and find happiness in the strange and familiar.