The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Birth and Baptism June 13, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:30 am
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It was three years ago today when my husband saw his second son born. As my husband’s pregnant girlfriend was due to deliver their baby sometime around the middle of June, I’d made plans for Elihu and me to be out of town during that time. The wait was over. As my husband had not officially moved out of our house, and as the couple had no home other than that of her parents, I had begun to make peace with the idea of starting over far across the country, closer to my own family, and leaving my house to the two of them and their new baby. Just a few years before I’d left my beloved Evanston, just outside of Chicago and moved to the rural town of Dekalb so that Fareed, Elihu and I might start our life anew. Now, without my husband, I had no reason to stay in that small town. I packed for a week’s vacation and took Elihu to the place that would soon be our new home. My son and I were far away when Charlie was born, three years ago today.

A friend had insisted we come and enjoy her family’s beautiful pond anytime we cared; they were all away and busy during the daytime, we would have the dock and water all to ourselves. On that sunny, warm June 12th, 2008, I took Elihu to the pond for an afternoon of pollywogs and distraction. While he had little idea how his own life was changing, I did, and that day was heavy with a strange, sick brew of feelings. It seemed I was living in a dream. My husband was about to have a new child. The child that had blown the lid off of everything. My comprehension about it all was primitive. I could still not understand this. I’d lived through nine months with him still living in our home, each day dreading the event that he himself awaited with great excitement. Such a queer mix of things, I could do no more to keep myself sane than to leave town and come back after the babe had been born. Here I was now, with my son, on hot summer’s day, toes dangling off the dock in the cool water of a country pond while a thousand miles to the west something was changing. Here, my son was busy with nets and buckets, scooping up pond life, unaware of how his own life was changing in that very moment.

The sun and sparkling water gave me some relief. Elihu had taken an interest in the fishing gear there and for a time my energy was spent helping him bait and cast, and making sure that he didn’t hurt himself accidentally on the hooks. I was on vigilant watch against mishaps for a half hour until he lost interest and contented himself again with the net. I sat back in the Adirondack chair and looked out over the white pines that rimmed the water. I watched my son play, and thought to myself that in spite of our having been a family til now, Fareed had shared very little time with the two of us. Most of my memories around Elihu did not include his father. Instead my memories were mostly just the two of us. Walking around our Evanston neighborhood, riding the bike on the lakefront, visiting friends, even together at rehearsals, radio shows, gigs. I had Elihu with me all the time, everywhere. I’d always felt this was a time of waiting. Waiting for our new life. One in which I would set aside my gigs and projects to raise a family. A life in which Fareed would tour less, stay home more, enjoy our company. Now, it seemed, it might be just Elihu and me, alone, forever. My heart couldn’t bear this. Here Fareed was, embarking on the familial journey with someone else instead of us, his real family. How could this be happening? We’d moved to Dekalb just two years ago in order to start over, but not like this! I tried to drink in my surroundings, to buffer myself against the constant thoughts. I needed to breathe, separate myself from the pain. It felt like nature, water, air and light were the only things that could help me today. The lakeside day seemed so bright and hopeful – yet it was oblivious to our loss. It was a day of contrasts that I could not comprehend.

My thoughts were interrupted by a huge splash. I needed not an instant to think, but sprang from my chair. The pond water was a dark amber, tinted by the tannin of leaves and it obscured even bright objects only inches below the surface. As I looked down I saw the top of my son’s head descending through the water, it’s shape disappearing in the dark. In seconds I was under that water, grabbing my baby, pushing him upward, my feet sinking to the shins in the silty bottom. If I’d been rescuing anyone other than my only child, I don’t know how I’d have gotten purchase enough on the ground to push him into the air. But this was my son, my life, my everything. Somehow I lifted him above the water and again another foot upwards to the dock. I myself sank back down again after I’d set him on the platform, but in a rush of adrenaline I lifted myself up and onto the dock beside my Elihu, who was scared, and thank God, crying and alive. I rocked him, I tried to soothe him. I held him as I’d never held him before.

We sat for awhile, waiting for our hearts to stop pounding. The horrifying image of the dark water closing in over my son played again and again in my head. He might well have died. Yet he didn’t, I had saved him from that. I’d given birth to him once, and today in some way, I’d given birth to him again. He was alive, I was alive, it was ok. And once again, it was just the two of us. It seemed the universe had demonstrated in the most acute way that we two were starting over. We had emerged from the water somehow changed.

As I drove up to my parents’ house my cell phone rang. Fareed’s tone was matter of fact. While he was not overtly rejoicing in his news, his mood was light and upbeat, different from the somber tone he’d used all those months as we waited for this day. I could hear in his voice a guarded excitement about his new life. His new son had been born about forty-five minutes earlier and he just wanted me to know. He went on to tell me details about the delivery – things I didn’t want to know, couldn’t possibly share delight in – while I sat, stunned, trying to integrate what had just happened here with what had just happened there. As Fareed continued to talk, my mind began to piece together the last hour. It seemed that nearly the moment the new baby was born, my son was tumbling into the water. As the newborn took his first breath of air, my son struggled for the same. I sat, unmoving and stunned with the metaphor that had been placed so clearly in my path. This was a day of emergence and change. It was a day of cleansing and rebirth.

And if I’d not been entirely convinced before, I was now. We had been washed clean of our old life and a new one was just beginning.

 

Sorrow of June June 12, 2016

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Growing Older,Pics,Retro Post — wingmother @ 3:20 pm

Although there is much good news to report on our current life here, today I can’t summon the focus to organize it all, to sort through photos and keep straight the chronology of events. My thoughts keep returning to the significance of this day in our personal history. It’s a cloudy, cool day here in Greenfield, and for that I’m glad. My soul isn’t up to sunshine right now. Today, I am remembering, and it feels as if the overcast skies are empathizing with me.

This is the week of my former parents-in-law’s wedding. Something like 55 years by now. Nothing sad there, but it reminds me that the other anniversary is coming soon… Today is the birthday of my ex-husband’s third child – his second son – born while we were still married; the child who changed our lives forever. And one year ago, on a rainy June night, Martha Carver died. That last one feels surreal to see in print, but I know that one day, like all the other once-surreal events of my life, it will be just another landmark in my life. It won’t hurt as much as it does now. Martha’s time had come, and she lived a full life. My sorrow over her death is the usual sort. And I suppose this day doesn’t hurt as much today as it did eight years ago on that afternoon when Elihu’s half-brother was born, but it still causes a little dark spot in my gut. Sorrow may diminish, but once there, it never fully goes away. At least that’s how it feels to me. I’m always amazed at the sorrow we human beings can live with. I realize it’s part and parcel of being here on this earth, but I’m still not a fan. I also realize that without sorrow and loss we might not fully appreciate what it is to have the people and things we love around us. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining; I don’t have it bad by any means, but still… Sorrow slows me down in my thinking and in my actions too, it bears heavy on my heart and makes me linger at the view of the hills outside my window, wondering and wondering…

Everything is as it should be. I have no regrets. The life that Elihu and I have created here in Greenfield is all that we could want. It may not have arrived in a way I would ever have expected, but somehow the crappy situation that brought us here gave birth to opportunities we never, ever would have had otherwise. Knowing this is what keeps me moving forward, even when sorrow continues to follow close behind. Our finances are still a stressful thing, dysfunction continues to thrive in my family, and the future is – even with all the potential for great things ahead – still uncertain. But even so, somehow, I’m able to put it all aside and help us to live our lives to the fullest. We have so much to look forward to, and Elihu and I are pretty good at enjoying the ride along the way, from quiet moments at home to jam-packed schedules and plates piled high with commitments. Silliness mitigates the sorrow, and hope for happier things to come helps to get us out of bed in the morning.

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Click here for the story of how we came to live in Greenfield: Birth and Baptism

Click here for the story of Martha Ward Carver’s death: Remembering Martha

And finally, click here to see what’s been going on at The Studio – this is happier news to be sure.

 

Day of Dads June 16, 2013

In my family we never celebrated Mother’s or Father’s day. In fact, we were discouraged from really talking much about it. My mother, the clear captain of our familial ship, would always tell us it was a Hallmark-created holiday (subtext: not real or worthy) and that she didn’t need a card on one particular day of the year because, as she would so enigmatically add, “everyday is mother’s day”. You can imagine how confusing this sounded to a young girl. I got her gist, that the holiday was somehow inferior and unnecessary, but what about that ‘every day is mother’s day‘ bit? Did that mean she knew we loved and appreciated her every day of the year? Because we were not a household that ever said ‘I love you’ to each other. And we certainly never thanked her for all the things she did for us – we were kids, after all. Her statement always felt a bit dark, even a bit angry. Young though I was, I was definitely aware of my mom going through life with a certain mother-as-martyr sort of attitude. (I too share this tendency at times, but hope that I counteract it by apologizing to my son when I do express a similar sentiment; I always assure him it’s my greatest joy – albeit exhausting sometimes – to provide him the things he needs.) So was she being sarcastic? Did she actually want some props on her day? Or did she truly feel contempt for the whole thing? Each year I’d feel a strange sort of dread at the two holidays. My father himself was simply silent on the subject of his own day. We never mentioned it, never uttered the words “Happy Father’s Day” to him, never gave him a card that I can remember. It just was not what we did. But in that it was what the rest of the world seemed to be doing, deep inside I was always very conflicted about these two holidays.

It was five years ago this week that my ex husband’s third child, and second son, was born. I had made plans to be here in New York around his girlfriend’s due date, as it was just too much to bear to remain in town for the birth. My ex was still living in our home then, staying some nights with me, some with her. By June he still had made no plans for his future living arrangements, so I began to make my own. I’d come here in part to escape the birthday of that new child, and also to convince myself that a move to this place was the next necessary step in my life. As planned, his son was born while we were here in Greenfield. I felt as if I were in some bizarre, waking dream when he called me moments after the birth and excitedly recounted all the details. (See “Birth and Baptism”, a post from June 13th of 2011.) I just sat there, in my car, cell phone to my ear, feeling almost dizzy. Almost in my body, almost floating. Adrenaline filled my veins and my body felt cold with shock. I had known it was coming, why did this hurt so much? Why didn’t I stop him from talking? Why was he saying all this to me? Was I truly hearing this? I don’t think I said much back to him. I just remember thinking, my husband has two sons now. And a daughter, older than our son. How could any of  this possibly be? This was my son’s father. My husband. Our Daddy. He belonged with us, his real family.

Father’s Day was a couple of days later. I was out doing some errands on that beautiful, sunny day when I pulled into the huge parking lot of a local box store. I had NPR on the radio, and some music came on. Not just some music, but nylon string guitar. I knew that sound immediately. Two decades with a guy who pretty much lives only for the ‘sound’ and you just know. I stopped driving. I remember pausing, looking up at the huge, white cumulus clouds. Thinking how small I was in the world, how far I’d run, and yet… here he was again, sharing my tiny bubble of personal space. But I couldn’t turn it off, I was curious. Was it just an anonymous sound bed? I held my breath… Then a familiar male voice, one of the regular NPR guys came on. Said who it was we’d been listening to. Said he was a dad, too. Then, in a smiling and warm tone wished Fareed a very happy Father’s Day. Again, that cold feeling shot through me. Would they have been so gushing if they knew? Fuck this! Fuck him! He’s just changed forever the life of his one, true son and here he is being lauded as a great dad! They forgot to say “father of three, but only one by his wife!”. It all still felt unreal. I was a thousand miles away from him and yet still – here he was, in my face, keeping the hurt as fresh as possible. It was the single hardest decision I have ever made, but in that moment I knew that Elihu and I could no longer live in Illinois. I finally knew on that Father’s Day that our lives had truly changed, and so had our home.

Back in Chicago we’d known a guy who’d had two families. At the same time. I never got how it worked. I had been told that he was not with the mother of his first four kids, but still, you’d see them together at his concerts – and their relationship wasn’t quite clear… He had two children with a younger gal, essentially the gal he was currently ‘with’, however there seemed to be an overlap in ages, or at least a very small window between the ages of the kids from the two families. Sometimes you’d see both families – all six kids and the two moms – sitting not very far from each other at one of dad’s shows. I’d watch them, looking for clues, for something… I couldn’t fathom how this was tolerable, especially when I’d heard that the first – and older – mother had not been part of the decision. Back then it was stuff of another world altogether, but now it’s my reality. I do understand that plenty of folks separate, divorce and then go on to make new families, but this overlapping thing still just feels creepy. I also know that mistakes happen, that we all lose our thinking selves when passion and physical desire overwhelm us – yeah, I know. I get it. And strangely, my heart goes out in some way to those poor guys who discover they’ve left an unexpected child behind – cuz that has got to suck. And also, I’m pleased to see these dads of multiple families try to step up as best they can. But seriously, how can one give oneself fully to more than one young family at a time? I can better understand having different families at different life stages – but having several sets of small kids at one time that all need their dad – I just don’t think anyone’s gonna win in that situation.

Thankfully, I think my son’s fared pretty well in spite of his less-than-favorable dad situation. As I write, they’re Skyping. (Dad had to take a break moments ago to Skype his daughter in London – it’s a busy holiday for him. !) I don’t flinch anymore though. It’s become our life. And while I’d still like to speak one day with that ‘other original mother’ of that Chicago fellow to better understand how she deals with it, I have enough of my own experience at this point to feel at home in our unique family situation.

As to my own father, he’s not even aware of what day it is. Doesn’t mean Elihu won’t make a card and we won’t stop by for a visit. But just yesterday dad greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving”, then cheerfully acquiesced when I told him it was actually a fine Spring day. He always easily adjusts to being corrected, then seems to forget all about it seconds later. But he still retains memories of his life, and he does know he’s my dad, and in spite of his having once called Elihu ‘his favorite nephew’, in spirit, at least, he recognizes Elihu with his heart. Yesterday I had my own sudden and unexpected memory of my father pop up… The wild roses had just burst into bloom and every breeze carried their scent. The perfume brought back a snapshot image of my dad from years ago… One Spring, when I was about twelve or so, I played Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose” as part of my end of year piano recital. When I rejoined my parents afterward, I saw that my father was crying. It stunned me, that my playing could move him so. It also shocked me because until that moment I’d never seen my father cry. Or show much emotion. I’d seen him happy or mad, but not much else. As I said before, we were not an ‘I love you’ sort of family. That was a moment that changed me in some way, and changed the way in which I saw my father. He was touched, and so was I. And I knew for sure then that he loved me.

My son is lucky that he has his dad in his life, and that he absolutely knows his father loves him. I also feel lucky that I’m still able to see my own father and tell him that I love him too. And a little later today, that’s what we’ll do. Because no matter what some may feel about the artifice of the holiday, I think the idea of celebrating our parents on one special day out of the year is a good one. Happy Father’s day to all you dads.

Elihu plus kidsCharlie, Brigitta, Erie & Elihu

 

Blow Up May 25, 2013

father and sonit started out so sweetly…

The last item I remember on the table for consideration regarding ‘possible scenarios for this coming summer’ was that Fareed, his girlfriend and their two young boys were making tentative plans about driving out here for a visit at the Hillhouse (yes, you heard right) in the RV on their way to visit his extended family in Montreal. It would likely be the end of July. Wow – that was sooner than I could wrap my brain around. I’d always figured this would come one day, I guess I just didn’t figure on that day being so soon. Man, did that get me thinking. How would I deal with this? How should I deal with this? Need I even deal with this at all? This little bomb had me stopped in my tracks. Yes, we’ve all managed ok so far, but then again that was probably because we never saw each other. We knew about each other’s life to some extent, but that was it. Wait, was he honestly serious? Did he really feel comfortable with all of them driving here in that megalith, dropping anchor, plugging in… Having his girlfriend and their two small boys jump out and be cheerfully invited into our modest home for a casual visit? As in a ‘come on in, have some tea and see what we’ve done with the place oh look how well the boys all play together’ kind of thing? Really? Wow. Where to start? Really, where? I told him I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. But I didn’t say no. Told him I’d have to think on it. And so I began to work on it…

Some four years ago I did in fact have short visions of welcoming Jill here… I realized that there would one day come a time when Charlie would be old enough to want to see for himself where exactly his half brother came from – and maybe even, become slightly curious as to who his brother’s mother was. And by ‘that time’ the mother of Elihu’s half brothers and I would have become somehow able to greet each other properly, civilly. In that first strange year after their son was born – some of you may gasp at this admission – I even had envisioned opening my arms to embrace her, and through that gesture letting her know that I no longer wished to hold all these bad feelings about what had happened… After all, didn’t we both know what it was to love – and live with – the same man? Were not our children siblings? I’m fairly sure that it was the antidepressants that enabled me to function in those early years, but more to the point the drugs were tempering my thoughts and making it possible for me to actually envision positive scenes like that unfolding so naturally… (They also helped with the mundane stuff too, like just plain getting out of bed.) It’s probably why I can no longer retrieve that same visualization these days; I weaned myself off of the medicine a couple of years ago. I’ve made attempts at reviving those first benevolent visions, but without the help of the antidepressants, I just can’t get there again. In fact just trying to makes me feel rather weak and ill. And sometimes quite angry, too.

I remember attending baby Charlie’s baptism, my five year old son sitting a pew ahead of me, next to his father, who sat beside his young girlfriend. I was in a heavy, heartbroken daze that day, but had decided to go to the service in order to show my son that all was ok. Yeah, right. I began sobbing within minutes, sitting there in that foreign church, knowing no one there save my in-laws (who have never shown me any compassion throughout this ordeal and continue to have a strangely ‘Stepford wives’ air about them) and staring with absolute disbelief at the back of my husband’s head. I saw him take his girlfriend’s hand and give it a squeeze. He put an arm around Elihu. Jill’s own mother must have seen this too, for strange as it might seem, at that moment she turned around and handed me a tissue. This tiny gesture told me a lot. She knew what torture this was for me. She got it. But her daughter seemed light years away from any similar comprehension. My tears fell uncontrollably throughout the ceremony. My son returned briefly to my side afterward, but then trotted off to be with the celebrating family. Not mine. Not his either, really. Or was it? Who the hell knew anything? For God’s sake her parents were our peers! Nothing felt right at all. In the church lobby, Jill’s dad agreed with me that he’d be up for breaking away for a sanity-restoring cigarette outside. Only time I’d ever spoken to him. But as kind a gesture as it was, it didn’t end up happening. Like his wife’s offering of a tissue – his loose invitation for a smoke also told me that he too got it. That he felt bad for me, for the situation. For the way things ended up. I remember both of us agreeing, as we looked towards our shoes and shook our heads, that it certainly wasn’t the baby’s fault, but still, just so not the way any of use would have wanted things to be.

Fast forward to now. I had just spent several weeks in deep contemplation of the proposed visit by my ex’s ‘other family’. I’d been greatly stressed by it, greatly at odds. I spent morning quiet time thinking it over from all sides, trying to get myself into that moment when I finally saw her… and of all places on the planet…here. Why was it just so, hard? Why? I was just about to post something about the process itself, when I learned that it would turn out to be worry wasted: At dinner last night, Fareed casually said those plans were now not happening. Instead, he would be taking Elihu on a nearly six week (and nearly ten thousand mile!) tour in the middle of his summer – a trip that would take the local county fair off the summer’s list (a top priority item, year after year, but missed each year on account of dad’s plans). Things, once again, have changed radically – from the already radical plans they’d originally been. Without so much as a heads up. Or email. Or phone call.

So, imagine what’s going on inside me. First, I’m pissed that he posed this incredibly awkward possibility, had me agonize over it for a while, then just drops it. Granted, HUGE relief. But then instead, he has his time with his child occuring on a hippie jam band tour? Late nights, long boring drives, unknown babysitters, not to mention the partying that takes place along the line…. I’ve dealt with this culture since my son was 5, so it does not freak me out for the many and obvious reasons it might another mom… and at the age of 10 he’s certainly much more able to handle himself safely. But six weeks in a friggin RV with grown men? That’ll get old soon enough. I do get that he’s old enough to play music with them – he’s been doing that all his life, and that’s an amazing experience that will be with him always – but there’s a down side to this too: he misses summer vacation at home with his friends, his farm, his free time. The past three summers have ended in tears because Elihu felt he did not have enough time at home just to do nothing. Just to be a kid, agenda-free. And his days just to be a kid are fast coming to a close! Three times now he’s missed the county fair. (Tears always result.) His dad says to suck it up – and reminds me that the court says he should have two whole months with his father. What to do? Fareed tours much of summer. So if Elihu should visit his dad at his home, that will be interrupted by absences here and there – and they certainly won’t get two months of visiting in. And from what I understand, Jill doesn’t feel comfortable taking care of Elihu when his father’s gone. (Why, after five years and two sons of her own, she should feel this way – I don’t really understand. But as Elihu says, ‘she’s family, but she’s not family’.) So, in order for father and son to be together, the ‘best’ way to accomplish that is pack the kid on the bus and join the tour. Sigh.

I will admit that I should have researched the dates of the county fair and sent them to dad long before today’s conversation. I know Fareed’s priorities, and I should have carved out ours months ago and put them in black and white. Fareed is crazy busy, and I know he can’t just keep dates and overall objectives in his mind with all that’s going on in his world. He needs them on paper. I get that. But I will not retract my opinion that the way Fareed handled the summer plans sucked. Abruptly announcing the current plans have simply changed, and that they have been replaced by another new and challenging scenario is supremely lame and selfish. Look, I’m so much more sympathetic to his side of this than most can understand. I cannot imagine the heartbreak Fareed lives with, and while he may not know it (but my friends all do and think I’m crazy for it) I worry about him still. (As I write this I fret that he’s not sleeping well or isn’t comfortable enough on the train ride back.) I don’t want him separated from his son anymore than possible. It positively grieves me to know how deeply he misses Elihu, it does! But not to give any consideration to his son’s expectations of the summer, to think only of getting in his ‘court appointed time’ against all odds – that is a lame and selfish approach. I wish Fareed could try and imagine summer vacation from his son’s perspective: un-planned days on the farm, long days spent with friends… empty, sunny days expanding into the future… I know Fareed’s busy, I realize he misses his son terribly and that we must all make this work, but I just wish Fareed would think of his son before he thinks of himself. But that’s not the way he rolls.

Not sure how it happened, but I’m guessing the wine and beer musta helped loosen me up (don’t drink much these days). Cuz I was fuming. Fuming that he should once again just Lord His Way over us. Tell us the plan without any input from Elihu beforehand. I have been through enough tears from this child over summers in which he feels he has NO control, and NO audience with his dad. I have had it. Plus, I’ve had it with Fareed acting like this is all life as usual for a normal family. Acting as if nothing is wrong. Or different. He has never apologized to me for any of this new life – nor has Jill for that matter (as an olive branch of sorts I once emailed her to say thank you for taking good care of Elihu. Heard nothing back. Fareed said she was scared of me. Geez.). Only recently did Fareed offer a letter of apology to Elihu – and that was only in response to having read a blog post here! Instantly, things begin to tumble around in my head. In my mind I replay his words just before we married: “Remember, no matter WHAT happens, divorce is NOT an option”. I remember that so well. So well. They were words of true and lifelong committment and I took them seriously. I think of this and it makes me madder. Now my head is buzzing. I am livid and still gaining. In this moment I remember too my miscarriage, and how he’d knocked up his girlfriend shortly after… I remember that he did her on the same couch where I had once nursed our baby… I remember that he does voice and guitar duo gigs with her now too, the very sacred thing that he and I had shared for so many years… I remember that he pays his lawn guys the same money he pays in support… I thought of our days without heat, mixing powdered milk with water while his kids ate pricey gluten-free crap… All of this and more swirled about in my head in one hot, horrible, raging mess and as he left the room I screamed at him just to go home to his slut and her illegitimate kids and leave us alone. Although I’m sure there were moments before that had come close, I cannot remember feeling such acute betrayal and rage as I did in that moment. I walked outside looking for an outlet for my rage, but nothing felt right. I needed to keep busy. I was spinning. Inside the house again, I sunk my hands into the dishwater; at least I could use this surge of white-hot energy to get the stupid dishes done. I picked up a knife and paused; for an instant, I could see how good it would feel…. And I understood much better how crimes of passion come to be. I finished the dishes, and as my anger subsided I began to feel sick about what I’d said. Sick. God damn it – this whole fucking thing was sick. I so wish I could just escape from it, but there’s nothing to do but take a breath, exhale, then keep going.

Shortly before we dropped Fareed off at the train station tonite, we stopped in a little Indian restaurant because I’d had a taste for some gulab jamun. The owner had a small rack of kurtas there, and I made a beeline to them. After perusing the options, I settled on a turquoise blue choice, and Elihu found a handsome one in black – just his size and right for wearing on stage. Yeah, it was all pretty perfect. Then Fareed spied a gorgeous deep red kurta, one I too had thought of taking – but not wanting to be greedy had left it be… He looked it over once, then rolled it up. “I’ll take this one too” he said. It was bagged separately. Walking back to the station I laughed to myself. It just didn’t ever seem to end. He asked me what I was laughing about. I told him. “She gets to have the second baby, she does the duo gigs with you now, plus she gets a kurta.” I paused. Wasn’t sure if I should continue, but hey, he asked… “She’s got bigger boobs and she’s younger too – she’ll last you a lot longer. Yeah, you’ve done a good job in replacing me. You got yourself a pretty good deal.” Really, I was smiling. It just seemed so crazy. Scripted, almost. Kinda like Reba’s show, only not. Kinda, but… While he has a good sense of humor and will sometimes join me in acknowledging how insane this all is, he wasn’t joining me this time. In fact, I think he probably thought it was too much. Too insensitive or sarcastic maybe. Oh well. Still seems kinda funny to me. Hey, if I don’t laugh about it, I’ll cry. And when I cry, there’s a good chance I might just blow up.

sadbut it ended with a bang.

 

Sister Pattie February 23, 2013

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Just finished reading Pattie Boyd’s autobiography. As I was browsing the shelves for something new to read and saw the title, I had a dim awareness of who she was. The cover photo intrigued me, and of course, reading that she had been married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton (and now remembering exactly ‘who’ she was) – naturally, I had to read her story. Aside from being a fascinating window into the culture of those times, it was so very much more to me. Of course my story isn’t anywhere near as colorful, historically significant or fast-paced as hers, but there are a few similarities. (Not the least of which is that we’ve each broken both of our wrists – one in nearly the same sort of accident – and have had more than one reconstructive surgery to fix em.) The big list however is of course this: music widow, shadow partner to famous guitar player, wife whose husband bore children with other women during their marriage – and whose husband somehow thought that it was ok. There’s a tiny personal link too…

Years ago, shortly after Fareed and I met and had become so deeply smitten with each other, he was asked to play on Sting’s album, Nothing Like The Sun. I had been on the road with a Chicago-based R&B band and our tour ended in Montreal. Since Fareed had relatives from the Pakistani side of his family living in town, he met me there and we went to pay them a visit. Next we drove south a couple of hours to see my folks in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a casual phone call into Pangaea to say hello made from my parents’ kitchen phone that opened the door to the session (this was a pre-cell phone world). The secretary told him to hold on, and the next voice he heard was Sting’s (Pangea was his record label to which young Fareed had just been signed). Sting asked Fareed if he might pop by the studio and add a couple tracks since he was in New York. Sting had no idea we were a good four hour drive away – but of course that didn’t matter much to us, and we immediately hopped in the car and headed down to the city.

The track was They Dance Alone; a mournful tribute to the Chilean women made widows by the Pinochet regime and the dance they make in honor of their deceased husbands. As Fareed himself is the son of a Chilean mother, it seemed all the more appropriate. While he played, I sat on the couch eating strawberries with Sting as he nursed a bad cold. Anecdotally, I remember that we were asked to join him and his producer for dinner afterward, but I missed Fareed so much plus I really didn’t have the energy to hang with people I didn’t know well and come up with the requisite small talk – no matter how glamorous they were – so I asked Fareed to pass. So how does this all substantiate that distant connection to Pattie I mentioned? It was that Eric Clapton had also played on the same track (we got to hear his tracks soloed up too). In the end his stuff didn’t end up making it on the final mix – but Fareed’s did. Kinda fun. So. Not a close call by any means, but definitely within the six degrees of separation thing.

What struck me most about Pattie was how incredibly insecure she was. At first I couldn’t believe the things she knew about – and put up with, yet she behaved as if nothing was going on. How could she? I thought. And then at once – a memory hit me. And I realized that I was no different. In roughly our third year together, Fareed was being pestered by a woman who’d once known him on the road. Nothing new there. But then he said the strangest thing – so out of the blue: “She says she’s pregnant with my baby.” I remember now a snapshot of that moment; the end of day light, standing near Sheridan and Broadway in Chicago, a large stone church just to the north of us… I can still see in my mind’s eye the look on his face. That first glimpse into the emotion-less facade he would wear so much of the time later on in our relationship. There was a lot going on behind those vacant eyes, and I was privy to very little of it. I was stunned more than anything, because he seemed to infer that this was not a vague, warrant-less threat from some crazy fan. Something had happened. Our relationship was still fairly new, and to even consider something like this was absolutely unthinkable to me. So I too behaved as if nothing had changed. And yet, somewhere deep down, I must have known things were going on…

I learned that Pattie knew about – but somehow still ignored – lovers of both George and Eric. But it was more than that. Eric, a substance abuser and most certainly deeply troubled guy, was just plain cruel to Pattie. But she stuck around. She took it. Unlike Pattie, I certainly never knew about anything – at least nothing was obvious. And certainly Fareed was never anything but a gentleman to me. But I did feel a tiny hint of doubt. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it, because if I did, I stood to lose my partner. I wasn’t brave enough to go there. And I guess Pattie had to face it because it was shoved in her face. (Hell, I suppose it was shoved in my face too, eventually.) Even after hours spent googling over the past four years in search someone having told a story similar to mine, I still hadn’t found anything close to what I myself experienced – until I read Pattie’s story. When I got to the part where Eric tells her his news, my whole body went cold. My God. Here it is. I know that moment. I remember that out-of-body feeling, that strange, shifting reality that invades your body like a drug all in an instant… Finally, here was someone putting a voice to this experience – besides me. Finally.

“He’d met a girl called Lori when he was in Italy. They had slept together a couple of times. He still loved me but he thought he was in love her too…One day I was in the kitchen putting flowers into a vase when he came in and told me that he had had a phone call from Lori. She was pregnant. I felt panic, fear, uncertainty, terror of what might happen next. What would I do? How would I cope? ‘Can’t she get rid of it?’ I asked. I felt sick. I couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t think…” Man, do I know that place. I know it so well. But, this is only the first phase of a long and bizarre process, which inevitably ends in the birth of this new person – an event which is the most exceptionally queer and dreamlike mix of things one could ever experience in a lifetime. It’s acutely painful, it’s surreal… and of course, there’s a low level guilt present, because, after all, this tiny child had nothing to do with all the surrounding drama. And you do, in some way, wish for your not-yet ex’s happiness, and the new mother, and the babe… It’s a grueling, strange process for the wife. But oh thank God, I’m not alone. I finally read the experience from another woman’s lips…

“One evening we were sitting on the garden wall when the phone rang. It was Eric, wanting me to know that he was the proud father of a son, Conor. He was so excited. He had watched the baby being born, and went on and on about how moving, how marvelous, how miraculous it had been. His enthusiasm was unbridled. I might have been his sister or a friend, not his jilted wife. He had no thought that this might be news I didn’t want to hear.”

If you’ll read my post “Birth and Baptism“, you’ll hear me describe a nearly identical scene. Reading her account has helped me feel so much less alone. And in some ways, her experience was harder still because at that very same time she and Eric were undergoing IVF to have a child of their own. ! Pattie however, unlike me, never had the privilege of having her own child. I thank God up, down, right, left and center every day for my beloved son. I am so glad that I was able to know what it is to carry and raise a child. My heart goes out to Pattie, as that was a dream she worked so hard to achieve, yet it never came to be.

But on goes life. And while it may seem I can’t let go of my ‘story’, and I probably continue to write about it these days more than my audience might think is necessary, it shows me that my process isn’t over yet. But I am so very much better these days. I’m doing better than I was this time last year. And I suppose I’ll get better still with more time. My story will evolve, my heart will heal. Pattie’s story marches forward too… She has had so many adventures and such a rich life beyond that tiny tragedy that it gives me hope. I know that more adventures lie ahead for me too. For now, they’re more about fourth grade plays and egg collecting than travel or new careers, but I’m so very grateful for what I have.

And I’m grateful for my new sister, too.

 

Snowflakes February 28, 2011

Filed under: Divorce Diary — wingmother @ 6:11 pm
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It’s a snowy December night in a tiny, rural Midwestern town. We are at the town’s recreation center, a building that looks rather like a four car garage. The grounds are a few open acres with a playground at the far end. Beyond the chain link fence an ocean of cornfields extends for miles out into the blackness. Big, sparkly clusters of snowflakes are falling. They seem to appear from out of nowhere when they hit the parking lot lights. A narrow gauge train idles near the sidewalk waiting for the next load of passengers, which will be shuttled along a great oval track around the park. The train will pass homemade displays of lights setup across the lawn, the ride culminating in its passage through a tunnel of lit Christmas trees near the loop’s completion. It’s a nice crowd – enough families to be lively, yet nowhere close to crowded. Our four-year-old son wants to see the train up close. Already marching to the beat of a very different drummer, he wants to know if the little train has a diesel engine, and he wants to see so for himself. Currently, he is a train boy. A little bit of Thomas the tank engine, yes, but mostly he lives on a constant stream of information about the history and evolution of the train. His book collection is mostly limited to encyclopedic volumes on the subject. He has learned how to instantly multiply by two, motivated by the need to know the type of train as described by its wheel profile. He knows his ponies from his drivers. This is the place to be at Christmastime for just such a young boy.

I hold his father’s hand and our son walks ahead of us to the train. We are walking slowly. It is one of those magical winter nights. As I look upwards towards the falling flakes I feel as if I’m flying forward through space at a great speed. The snow is so perfect it hardly looks real. I look at my husband with a question on my face. He squeezes my hand reassuringly, and then winks both his eyes – he isn’t able to wink just one at a time – and he nods just a bit, with a half smile. “Nothing will change,” he says. “You’ll see. It will always be like this”. Really? I think. I wonder if I heard correctly. I feel like I’m drugged anyway. I’m not sure what’s real right now. Did he just say it will always be like this? How could it be? I wonder. Then I ask him this aloud, but my voice is soft, and it sounds like I’m talking to myself. I am in a daze. I can’t decide whether the setting takes the edge off, or if it just adds to the surreal quality of my life tonight.

Just a few weeks earlier my middle-aged husband told me he had a young girlfriend in our new community, and that he had decided to make his life with her. The words he used sounded sickly chauvinistic in this strange new context: ‘she’s carrying my baby’ he’d said to me. They’d been through a lot together he explained; she’d been pregnant by him once before, but she’d chosen to have an abortion. They’d been on again and off again for the past two years, struggling in their lover’s dilemma. He’d thought I’d known about her. I hadn’t. The past three weeks since he’d told me, he’d seemed much lighter. He had been increasingly distant and less like his old self of the past couple of years. Although I wasn’t the recipient of his affection any more, at least I benefited from his lighter mood recently. He had unburdened himself. He was finally free. My incarceration was just beginning.

Just two years earlier, I’d been in our beloved home just outside of Chicago, making tea for my husband and father in law who sat on the couch and began to make their pitch about my husband and me buying a business. They were proposing we buy a building in the town in which my husband taught part time. The building even came with a restaurant – one we could own and run ourselves. At first I was puzzled; we were musicians, what did we know about running a restaurant? Were they serious? My husband was convinced that with the current team of employees in place it would run itself. I wasn’t on board. I’d worked plenty of waitress jobs, and I knew that running a restaurant was more than a full time job. The pitch continued for weeks, months. It was a sure thing. A sound thing. A dependable source of income. We went to inspect the place and then pour over the pages of numbers the previous owner provided for us. (I’ve since learned about the malleability of numbers; they can be arranged as creatively as a piece of music.) Finally, we were going to own a real, money-making commercial property just like his parents. We would be real grown ups now.

The restaurant was in a small college town that was a good 75 miles away from our current home, the town in which my husband taught three days a week at a state University. The weekly commute he made was becoming too much for him, too much for all three of us. Although we weren’t entirely decided, we had begun the discussion about moving. If we were going to have a second child, it really did seem to make sense. My husband made the point that until we made the decision whether to move or not, he was out there every week anyway – he would be there to make sure things ran smoothly. Even though I was never completely convinced it was a great idea, I wanted to support my husband in his vision. Yet I found myself wondering if it really was his vision – or his father’s. In the end it didn’t matter; whether he was driven to acquire the property to impress his father or to satisfy his own ambition, it was becoming very important to him. He was fired up to do this, and he needed me on board. So I agreed. We bought the building, and the business.

For a year it seemed to go all right. My heart was still tied to the community in which I’d lived my entire personal and professional life, and I wasn’t keen on moving. I was now mother to a young child with low vision issues who needed my help physically navigating about his world. I had experienced the sorrow and loneliness of a miscarriage that year too. My husband had been out of town on the day I miscarried. He was out of town a lot. (He later confessed he ‘knew it was over’ when I miscarried. The marriage went on for two more years during which he never brought up the subject.) When my husband wasn’t teaching, he was touring. I was on hold, waiting. My husband didn’t talk about looking for a house. When we spoke, he talked only of the business. Things I couldn’t really help him with. I was here, he was there. Within months the darkness began.

The manager in whom my husband had put his trust was ruining us. Whether she was stealing, making bad choices – or both – it didn’t matter. Here was the alarm call. What seemed like a far-off reality became my immediate to-do list. Clean, pack, list home, find new home. Within months I was standing in the living room of our new home, surrounded by boxes, two cats and a small child. Starting over.

The next year was a whirlwind. I had to step in and run a business, I had to use whatever knowledge my previous supplemental part time jobs had taught me. I had to order food, create menus, set prices, paint walls, unclog toilets, renew liquor licenses, pass health inspections, hire bands, fire employees, make peace with the police, meet with the mayor, settle disputes. It was baptism by fire, and nothing I’d bargained for. My Pakistani father in law kept telling me we should just sell homemade pakoras and that would save the business. My husband told me it was not as hard as I made it seem. “I ran this from a cell phone for a year!” he would scold. And so I muscled on. In one year I experienced events that I would have expected from a decade.

Between the duties of café owner and mother I fairly passed out at the end of each grueling day. I’d noticed my husband taking on a strangely quiet distance – and our sex life was currently non-existent – but as the business was hemorrhaging money I thought it was the obvious reason for the changes in him. There was a pit of fear in my stomach nearly every day of that year. Just getting out of bed in the morning took a huge effort of will. I’d figured my husband, my partner of more than two decades, was feeling the stress too, and this was his way of riding out the tough time.

After two years we finally decided the grand experiment was over. I had a good plan. I also had a good manager. She wanted in, I wanted out. And so we passed the café on to her. Now we would simply collect rent on the space. When she signed the lease, I felt the most supreme relief I’d felt in years. In spite of a two year detour, we were now poised for our new life to begin. A new life to be sure. Not one I ever could have seen on the horizon.

We wrapped up the business. Then a few weeks later, we wrapped up our marriage.

It is now almost three years later. I live on ten acres in rural upstate New York, just outside an historic, cosmopolitan college town. I live two doors over from my aging parents with our son, who is now 7. I am now 47, and have finally come to terms with the reality that I will no longer bear another child. My husband now has two young boys with his girlfriend. The juxtaposition of her youthful, childbearing chapter and my peri-menopausal reality can weigh heavy on my heart if I think too long about it.

As with any experience in life, it’s often not until the event is well in your past that you can fully glean the insight it offers. For as much sorrow as I have felt over not having our second child, I can say now that I am glad not to be parenting two young children by myself. For I surely would have been, if I hadn’t miscarried. The relationship I have with my son would be entirely different if he had a sibling who also needed me. I simply would not be able to devote myself as fully to two children as I can to one.

I want to be truthful about our new life. Sometimes it is downright lonely. Sometimes it really hurts. The poverty we now live with can add to the sense of betrayal, especially when we’re weakened with grief. There are moments when my son weeps inconsolably that we two live alone, that he lives without siblings, without a dad, without the noise of a full house… There are moments when I too can do no more than drop my face in my hands and sob, for me, for my son…. My heart just breaks that my son will never have a father here in our home; a father to help with homework, to sit at the supper table, to wrestle with on the living room floor… I am, however, grateful that he’ll always have his father in his life. His dad visits every month or so, and our son goes back to the midwest too. When he visits his father, our son stays in our old house, in his own bedroom. He does have a father, and a father who loves him dearly. He’s ahead of many.

Although I would never have chosen any of these experiences for myself, life has given me a surprising reward in exchange. I have a relationship with my son that is so intimate, honest and strong, that I absolutely know I got a good deal – even with the betrayal and sorrow. My son and I are living a life rich in nature, music, art, self-discovery and love. A life very different from the one we might have had. I could never have envisioned our life as it is now. It seems our new life came from out of nowhere. It certainly came as a total surprise.

In spite of the hardship, the last few years have presented me with so many opportunities. Even in the midst of my pain, I was always aware that there were lessons here somewhere that I needed to learn. Things I needed to pay attention to, to resolve. But despite my own self-coaching, learning still just isn’t as easy as it seems it should be. Sometimes, when I think I’ve got my head wrapped around this, and I’m praying for forgiveness to live in my heart – just when answers should be a moot point – questions still pop into my mind. And I often think of that snowy night at the Christmas train ride. What did my husband mean when he said nothing would change? Everything changed. When the questions and the ‘what ifs’ arise, I make an effort to send them on their way as quickly as possible. These past few years I’ve seen what a waste of energy it is to consider the things that might have happened. This happened. It’s my reality. I start from here.

I may yet ask my ex if he even remembers what he said to me that night… he might not. People see things each through their own lens, and by that time he and I had been looking through two very different viewfinders for a while. I can’t know his experience. I can only know mine, and I can only make choices for myself.

I choose to remember the beautiful snowflakes that appeared from out of nowhere.