The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Hitched July 22, 2013

Well, kinda thought it was coming. When I heard on my ex’s last visit that his girlfriend had recently “lost a ton of weight”, I thought I smelled a big day ahead. Women don’t usually just lose “a ton of weight” for no good reason. It’s most likely in preparation for some landmark event. Like turning 50. Or getting married. Whichever. So the idea had been spinning around in my head for a couple months. Not a new idea. But it’s funny how unceremoniously it was that I learned it had “just” happened. Whatever just means.

Elihu and I had finally caught up with each other yesterday, and tonite he called as I was making supper. As we usually do when we we’re apart, after all the urgent news has been shared, we default to a sort of ‘what are you doing right now’ sort of conversation. It’s more a means to keep the tunnel open to each other, more a way just to be with each other in the same room than to say anything new. He was telling me all sorts of little things about his day, and about how many hours they’d been on the road so far – nothing much of anything to tell – when he added, “oh, just so you know, it’s a little thing, but daddy and Jill had to get married. For a technical reason.” A year ago I might have reacted more acutely, but now, a year out, it didn’t quite knock the wind out of me. Didn’t even elicit a tear. But I can admit that I looked over to the microwave clock to note the time I was first given the big news, and I felt my chest contract just a bit. Elihu went on to say that he wasn’t sure of the details – and repeated that they’d done it because “technically they had to.” (I felt myself wondering why they didn’t “technically” need my husband and me to get divorced before they had two kids.)  Elihu told me they didn’t make it a big deal, it wasn’t a fancy ceremony with lots of people (I did manage to ascertain that Elihu had not been present for the big day) but that they were going to have a party later on. He just kept talking and talking, moving on to the next item on his mind, leaving me behind… silent , stuck in my thoughts, just the slightest bit dazed.

After nearly a quarter century together, and Fareed couldn’t have at least communicated this to me in some way? If not before, then maybe right after? Wow. If having children with two other women during our marriage wasn’t enough to show me the true colors of this man, guess this should pretty much seal it, huh. But bad behavior or not, I know that it is precisely because Fareed left that our lives have become so magical now. As our lives were destroyed, so too were they improved. A queer mix, but true. I realize that none of our wonderful new life would have been possible if Fareed hadn’t left. I remind myself this, because I can feel sorrow beginning to grow in my chest. Stop, Elizabeth…remember our new life here… We would never have known our blessed Waldorf School, we would never, ever have known what it was to have homing pigeons, to release them into the air and watch them return to us again…. We wouldn’t have known dear Timothy, our red golden pheasant, the chukkar partridges, ducks Joseph and Josephina, the many chickens, our dear button quail King George – or even our beloved goose Maximus – none of this would be part of our story today if Fareed hadn’t decided that he needed out of this marriage. Yeah, I know. But it still feels unjust, somewhere in my heart I still want answers; I want my husband, and the family that never really was – back. Tears come now. Seems the last time I cried it was over him too. That last, blow up of a visit. Wasn’t this done already? Guess not. More tears. More disbelief. I try to reconcile the dream of us in our Evanston home with this beautiful new life here in the country. We have a wonderful and full life here! We have grandma and grandpa next door…. So why am I still so sad? I certainly can’t say that I didn’t see it coming! Maybe this is why he didn’t tell me himself. Cuz he knew I’d cry. Asshole.

I already had a cold, so when I called my mom up to tell her the news, my stuffy nose didn’t give me away. As I’d expected, first I heard her initial expression of outrage and anger, but then she surprised me – as her tone uncharacteristically softened. She expressed sympathy. She became tender for a moment, as we both silently considered it all over again. Yeah, even with everything that’s happened, it was still sad. But we shook ourselves out of our lull by reminding ourselves that even if things were different, I would not want him back. Absolutely not. So. There it was. We both sighed a “whatcha gonna do?” sort of lament, and a beat passed.

I wonder about the two of them. They seem to have a good relationship. Certainly not the lustful, magical thing it might have once been, but they’ve managed to handle their two kids – plus two ‘others’ – as well as her going to school and his insane schedule – and they’ve logged some seven years now. (That includes two years I thought he was still my husband. !) Who knows. I have lots of friends tell me they’d put money on it not lasting ten years. Some think five, tops. Some speculate he’s cheating on her already. I don’t go there, cuz I just don’t know. And even though I am saddened that my old friend chose not to tell me about his marrying, I still don’t wish him any ill. In fact, I pray she’s still around to tend to him as he becomes an old man, because I can’t do that now. But someone has to. I hope she’ll stay on for the job.

Once, shortly after Fareed had come clean about having a pregnant mistress and wanting to be with her instead of me, we stood in the kitchen drinking gin and talking about things we’d hardly ever talked about before in our twenty-two years together. I asked him how he saw things now. Could he see himself with Jill at the end? I mean, we’d been together long enough that I’d always known how we two would die; one in the company of the other. But now, that sacred plan had been changed. I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be alone. I told him he could always call me. But he shrugged me off and laughed. He told me that he fully expected himself to be alone as an old man, living in a fifth floor walkup in Manhattan somewhere, practicing his guitar. And he said he’d probably end up dying alone – of AIDS, he added rather dramatically – and no one would care, but he’d be happy. Yeah, he probably would be. In a perfect world, a spouse and family are probably the last thing Fareed would ever need or want. Instead, the life that would suit him would be one of privacy; hours and hours spent playing his guitar, hours in which to write, to read, to enjoy a meal alone, a glass of wine alone, to do all this in the coziest of apartments, while far below the bustle of the street continues on, oblivious to the old man playing guitar in the window….

But for now my ex has hitched his wagon up to his lady’s for the long haul, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be living the life of a classical-guitar playing hermit anytime soon. But ya never know. After all, this was a man who told me in no uncertain terms that “divorce was not an option.”  Yup, plans change sometimes. We’ll just have to wait and see….

 

Sister Pattie February 23, 2013

IMG_5613

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.

 

The Fourteenth February 14, 2013

For no good reason that I know of, fourteen has always been my favorite number. It’s not that I aspired to be that age long before I was, nor that I looked back on that age with nostalgia after it was long gone. I have simply always loved the number fourteen. In my mind I visualize it as a verdant, deep green. It is a number that has just felt right to me for as long as I can remember. But a few years ago it took on another meaning altogether. On a day in which most people celebrate their love for those they hold dear, dark and horrible changes both big and small were taking place…

It was a gray winter day, in the middle of the afternoon, when a young man burst into a lecture hall in Northern Illinois University’s Dekalb campus and opened fire, killing five students and injuring many more before finally killing himself. (He had recently stopped taking medication for mental illness and had reportedly been acting strangely.) I heard the news almost immediately, as Fareed called me from NIU to let me know. I remember sitting in the kitchen, looking numbly out at the river that flowed behind our house… I was stunned, yes, but almost more stunned to hear him go on… He said that he was now worried about his girlfriend, that she was freaked out and he felt he needed to be with her… he wasn’t sure if he’d be home tonight. Crazy as it sounds, while she was now five months pregnant with their child, my husband still stayed at home with us – and still retired to bed each night with me. He would, however, slip away during the night to be with her, making sure to be back home in the mornings, for the sake of our son, he’d say. I was still so shell-shocked at what was happening that I followed along in a daze as he drew out the torture. I’d been fooling myself somehow during it all, thinking he’d come to his senses eventually and come home – that somehow we’d make sure this child was taken care of, and somehow, when this had all blown over, we’d find a way to go on with our lives again. Certainly this was crazy thinking, but it was a surreal time, and crazy was all over. And now this.

How could I argue – how could I indulge in my own petty concerns when people had just been killed? When true and real heartbreak was occurring, when parents were receiving the worst possible news they’d ever hear – when all this was going on, how was it that I could beg my husband as I did to please come home to his wife? I told him that family was of prime importance, and that this event must surely remind him of that. I was livid that this silly girl nearly half our age could manipulate him so easily. I found it hard to believe that she was afraid to be alone – for heaven’s sake she lived in a tony, suburban house with her parents miles from campus! What had she to be afraid of? What did she know of being left? Of truly being alone? I was furious, I was heartbroken, I was sick. I was also extremely confused.

Although he’d said nothing of it, earlier that day, merely through coincidence and not at all by design, Fareed had been served with divorce papers. He’d gone for months saying that he wasn’t sure, that he didn’t know yet what he would do… he wasn’t sure if he planned on leaving us or staying. His presence in our home gave my heart hope, but his girlfriend’s growing belly wasn’t unsure at all. I asked about divorce, but he wouldn’t commit to it. Finally, summoning the best fighting attitude I could, I agreed with my attorney that he should go ahead and serve the papers. They arrived that day, but Fareed didn’t mention it. I’ll still never know just how he reacted that morning at work when the agent knocked on his office door. I’ll never know if it caught him by surprise, or if he felt relief. Even after five years we’ve never talked about that day. I do still wonder sometimes.

In that he said nothing about the divorce papers, in the back of my mind I hoped they hadn’t arrived. That my husband would choose me over his mistress, that he would come home and everything would somehow heal itself. I was still fooling myself. Acting one way, feeling another, and thinking somewhere in between. Man that was one difficult Valentine’s Day. Not a lot of love to be found, and more heartbreak than anyone deserved. I could never have imagined in that moment that some five years forward I’d be ok. That I’d have more joy in my life than sorrow, that my gut wouldn’t be consumed with an unceasing ache. How can you tell someone in the midst of such pain – and make them understand – that it will not always be thus? Although I myself wasn’t able to envision a brighter future back then, I had to make that leap of faith and simply behave as if it was there waiting. I took the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach. It definitely took a few years for my heart to catch up and relax into this new life.

Honestly, I am still not completely reconciled with what happened to me or with the way in which my life’s course shifted, but I do realize that the trajectory of my life – and certainly my son’s life – was greatly improved by this fateful turn of events. By this fourteenth day of February on which things changed forever.

 

Twist September 14, 2012

I’d heard of it happening before. So I know I wasn’t the first. In going over some routine business through email today, I learned from Fareed that we were in fact – and had been since July 18th – officially divorced. Unexpected news. I still hadn’t heard it from my own attorney. In fact I’d recently written my lawyer a letter. I’d wanted him to know the process was waiting on one final dental procedure, that Fareed knew this too, and he could go ahead and ‘finalize’ our divorce after that. Guess it was a moot point. Another lesson in the never-ending ‘rules’ of divorce: if the insurance company isn’t told about the divorce (let alone the wife herself), you are still covered. Until they know different, things are as they’ve always been. That is to say, it’s all a friggin game. There’s some play in the rules. Things ain’t necessarily what you thought.

That I come to discover today that I’m now divorced is, in reality, very unspectacular. That I should even be moved to write a post about it probably seems silly. That I cried when I read the news should seem rather ridiculous. That I felt anything at all, it just doesn’t make sense. I kept going over it and over it again in my mind – why did this make any difference at all? Why should this news still jar my system, shake me up, break my heart all over again? I had to understand this. If I put myself in the shoes of readers for whom this drama dragged on way longer than it should have to begin with, and then appeared to have been over half a year ago… how would they feel about another self-sorry, virtual crying jag over this tired not-so-new news?

Just this afternoon I’d been at the eye doctor’s and was explaining that I could still make an appointment if it was before my dentist’s appointment – because I was still on ‘my husband’s’ insurance. I noticed how familiar it was to say ‘husband’, noted how many years I’d been saying it. I even noticed that in spite of the fact that it was soon to be different, I still liked to say that. “My Husband”. It felt like home somehow. To know that somewhere out there, I did really have a husband and his name was Fareed. He was a friend with whom I’d laughed, made music, and with whom I’d been around the world, and he was the man with whom we’d had one very planned and long-awaited child once, not too terribly long ago… Secretly, somewhere deep down, I liked that we were still married. While I knew all the reasons it was not a real marriage anymore, I still felt it kept us connected to so many things I wasn’t looking forward to letting go of. (And I don’t mean insurance.) So much history…  My mind flashes to a time when we lived in our tiny hi-rise apartment in Chicago. It was a time when I (and perhaps I alone) felt things were goin really good. Life was full then. Close to perfect. We were in love, our cats slept on the bed with us and we had coffee together every morning at the little corner cafe. So when I mourn our marriage, that’s one chapter of many that comes to mind. Just one. Of many.

But really, what the hell??? Married to a man who knowingly had another woman pregnant at the same time as me? Married to a man who now has two children with another young woman with whom he’s been in a relationship with for more than five years?? (And all this while he was still married to me; one wonders: is she patient or foolish?)  What, oh what, has changed that I can still feel such poignancy at the expected – and intended for – news? It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. Divorce is just so, well, different from marriage. Marriage you plan – then you celebrate in a big, public and joyful party. Usually with good food. But divorce – it sneaks up on you quietly. Divorce backs up a moving van to your life, loads up all of your stuff, then drives off without leaving you so much as a box of pizza to soften the blow.

I’m lying in bed with Elihu tonite, we’re kinda thinkin about butcherin our roosters tomorrow morning, we’re kinda thinking about cool Nordic names, we’re kinda thinking about the crazy rules of this modern life. He wants to know what changes now. Now that I ‘really am divorced’. I tell him not much. Most of the hard changes have already happened. Lots of quiet follows. “I’m mad that we don’t have enough money”. Not sure the context, so I wait. “I’ve been thinking. Grandpa Riaz has money, right?”  “Kinda” I answer, as it’s complicated. Lots of real estate, probably not a lot of cash flow. “It makes me mad that we have to figure out how to pay for Waldorf and he doesn’t help one bit.” Obviously he’s been ruminating like this for some time. He simply wishes we had money. Somehow he is taking this divorce news to confirm our poverty. That’s what it is I guess. Hmm. Gotta turn this one around here…

I present to him my spin on things: how much more comfortable would his bed be if we had more money? How much more would he enjoy his chickens if he had more money? How much better would he play his drums if he had more money? And so on… He gets it, and I’ve made a good point, but he’s not stupid. Me neither. We both know that be able to heat the house before it gets super cold – and not to have to wait for assistance to kick in in November – that would definitely make things better. Not to run our of money for food by month’s end. That would definitely make things better. And realizing that both his Dad and his Dad’s family have exponentially more means than we do, well, that is no longer lost to a bright nine year old boy. I can comfort and justify only so much. His wheels are turning, and he’s seeing some inequities here for himself. For the first time.

But I can offer this: It is all an illusion. Nothing is what you think it is. Everything you know will one day change. And money can’t stop that. Money can’t fix your broken heart or make you healthy. So money isn’t what it’s all about. Not really. Only problem is, it also kind of is. I mean I want to be honest here, money is a loaded subject. I can be all Zen about it – and ultimately I want us to know what it is to feel good with what we presently have. Really. And honestly, for the most part, we do feel pretty good about what we got goin on.

But shit. Just think twenty thousand could do, huh? Git a little infrastructure taken care of around the crib and knock the to-do list down to nuttin but a grocery list. Can’t say that wouldn’t feel most exquisite. That’s some serious cash. So yes, money can make things better, easier. (The little voice within is yelling ‘dishwasher, please!’)  Life can be poor, rich, simple, complex, married, divorced. Kinda all at the same time with lots of blurry lines in between. There’s something to be appreciated about every situation and its flip-side too. The trick is feeling ok where you currently find yourself. And not to bitch too much about how it might be otherwise. Just relax, cuz whatever you think you know, or whatever place you might be in right now (mental or physical) – it’ll probably end up changing. So just try to be here and be ok.

Like my favorite soft-serve ice cream cone, twirling together lemon and raspberry (locals, I’m a Dairy Haus girl, if you must know) it seems the lives we lead are less about straight lines and more about the twists… and the surprising experiences that result.