“Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”
What do I have in common with my fiancé?
Well… we both love art. In fact, we met in an art class – over 30 years ago – back when we were both 15 year old infants. We have carried this love of art into our adulthood and we often visit museums together, talk about films and music, analyzing the artists’ intent, the message, the relevance, whether we relate to it, whether we plain old like it.
We are both news junkies and often discuss stories.
We play cards together.
We go for walks together.
We both have a similar sense of dark, biting humor.
We visit car shows and both dream of (and have started saving our pennies for) a Dodge SRT Hellcat Challenger in Plum Crazy Purple with Oracle Halo Lights (in either blue or white), Lambo doors, custom rims and an after market air intake. (That being said, we’d also settle for a Charger. It depends on what is available when we have money.)
We dream of taking occasional road trips as this car will be our one large toy – in lieu of the stereotypical cabin or boat.
We are on the same page financially. We made plans and goals together and are equally committed to them.
We both put our kids first before anyone else except each other. And the thing is, neither of us can think of anything more fun or amazing or important than dropping our plans to get a visit from one of them – his or mine.
But really, it goes deeper than that.
When I reconnected with the beautiful soul I once called my friend who I soon will call my husband, I heard his story – over time – from our missing years. I came to understand that he values his needs, feelings and wants the same way he values other people’s needs, feelings and wants. He does not feel guilty for his needs, feelings and wants and does not feel guilty for communicating what he wants or needs. He respects my rights and recognizes and acknowledges them as being equally important to his own. He does not feel threatened because I have my own wants, needs, thoughts and feelings. He does not judge my (or anyone else’s) needs, wants, thoughts and feelings.
He is not afraid of losing my love, friendship or approval by expressing himself. He is the first to apologize if he has done something wrong or insensitive but… he does not apologize for things that are out of his control and out of his realm of responsibility. He decided long ago that he was not going to live life being angry or resentful. He was not going to live a life filled with ‘what ifs.’ He is done with the facades and pretending. He is perfectly happy living life, content with how he was created, satisfied doing the very best that he can.
And… I love that about him.
My soul shouts, ‘Me, too!’
While it is a work in progress and he is a little farther along than I am, we are both done with being something we are not.
We are both happy and committed to being our individual selves.
We have both decided to ignore the noise of the world and to live authentically, true to ourselves – quietly – under our own terms.
And, we plan on doing this together the rest of our lives.
“If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?”
On the surface, it sounds shallow to say that I would rather live to the age of 90 and retain the body of a 30 year but it is the truth.
When I was 30, I had a 4-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. My marriage had been tanking for years and my spouse was extremely distant. I was working two 30-hour a week jobs, going to school full-time and taking on all primary parent and housekeeping tasks. My spouse watched the kids one night a week for me to go to class but I had to hire a babysitter the other night. And it had to come out of my earnings. He was resentful of the kids. He kept a tally of the amount of time I spent with them and, instead of joining in parenting duties, he demanded an equal or greater amount of my time. Even if that meant I did not sleep or get my homework done. Not only did I survive, I maintained a 4.0 GPA.
I had a LOT of stamina in that 30-year-old body.
But… when I was 30, I got into two car accidents within six months of each other. Despite the lack of sleep, neither was my fault. I was hit head on when someone ran a stop sign while I was turning. I also got rear ended by someone who was talking on a cell phone while entering the freeway at 50 mph when traffic was at a dead standstill. I really wrecked my back between the two of these events – ending up with herniated and bulging disks in my neck.
When I was recovering from these car accidents, my mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer and passed away within five weeks.
During physical therapy for the car accidents, they began realigning things and I began getting really sick. I struggled to keep food down and ended up getting diagnosed with malrotated bowel syndrome. Apparently, my entire digestive system was upside down and backwards.
They ended up doing two back-to-back surgeries to correct it. I was in the hospital for 21 days straight. Surgically, they rigged something together so I can eat but… they couldn’t fix what was causing me to be so ill. It turns out, I have an artery wrapped around my small intestine close to the stomach. As it is not operable, it is something I still live with.
During my recovery from the surgeries and other major life events that took place within an 18 month period, I found out my spouse had racked up extremely high phone bills using 900 lines. He also had joined a dating service.
When confronted, he told me that it was my fault.
Had I been more available to him and paid attention to his needs while I was recovering from car accidents and dealing with my mother’s illness and death, he would not have used the 900 lines. If I had thought to service him while I was in the hospital, he would not have needed to join a dating service.
I was devastated.
And I believed him.
I believed it was my fault.
And, when he was caught window peeping a year later, I blamed myself.
I did not keep my husband interested in me.
I did not keep my husband home where he belonged.
I had failed him.
I failed my kids.
I failed all the neighbor women he violated.
I failed my family who made it plain they loved him more than me.
(“He is the first decent guy you’ve ever brought home. You are an idiot if you do not marry him and, if you screw up and he leaves you, we’re keeping him.”
I couldn’t live with what my marriage (what he, what I) had become.
But… I had nowhere to live, no money and no way to take care of myself or my kids. I couldn’t leave him.
I became flat-on-my-back-can’t-get-out-of-bed-depressed. So depressed, that I am actually missing days, weeks of memories during that time.
Friends took me to a conference in Oregon to get me away from the situation. And, when we got home, they hauled me to a doctor who prescribed antidepressants. The meds worked and life went on.
As a 45-year-old woman who now recognizes that her spouse had a sexual addiction, I no longer blame myself for the failure of my marriage.
But…. that damage is still there.
I feel responsible for everything – whether or not I actually am.
I constantly analyze everything, trying to guess what might go wrong and determine how I can prevent it.
I blame myself for everything that happens – regardless of whether or not it is my fault.
I often feel inadequate and unlovable.
But, I am working hard to fix that.
(This 36-questions series is part of that.)
Luckily, my new/old friend understands this.
He is extremely patient and is willing (so far!) to stick with me while I try to fix this. He definitely does his part to remind me I am not responsible for everything.
He reminds me that I deserve the same treatment I give to other people.
He makes me feel beautiful.
But… if I were to live until I was 90, there is no way I would want to be stuck with that 30-year-old mind again. That 30-year-old mind who didn’t know how to be an adult. That 30-year-old mind who inappropriately thought she could control the world. That 30-year-old mind who failed to love herself. That 30-year-old mind who failed to teach her kids what it meant to have self-respect and demand people treat you fairly.
I would far rather live with wisdom and experience.
Grace and mercy.
Forgiveness and fresh starts.
Which is what I really, really hope my 90-year-old mind will have accomplished.
“When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”
Rumor has it that when I was a toddler, I was a happy girl. I was intimate friends with every tree in the park near Minnehaha Falls, hugging as many of them hello as I could before I was dragged away by my parents each visit. My dad has the old photos to prove it.
I also apparently never stopped singing. Ever.
It wasn’t a big surprise to anyone when I declared – around three years old – that I was going to be an artist, a writer and a musician when I grew up.
And, for a long time, my family assumed this would come to be.
At three and four years old I attended art classes at the U of M with my art major aunt. I delighted in drawing, like the art students, the things I knew best. I liked drawing the things I saw every day. The professor laughed as I solemnly submitted my version of the assignments – myriad drawings of socks, feet, ankles, the undersides of nostrils towering over frightening teeth in twisted smiling mouths. I was an artist.
I began writing stories around this same time illustrating them with my misshapen drawings. (I had started reading very early, devouring encyclopedias by Kindergarten.)
I knew the pictures in my handwritten and stapled stories looked even better than that famous artist that my aunt and her friends studied, the one who drew people with mixed up faces. I knew my drawings had meaning and insight, inviting people into a little understood world of small people. The fact that my people had seven or eight fingers on each hand was of little consequence. My stories were insightful, telling of riveting things like the journey of a child perfume-maker who strove to become rich from her Lilies of the Valley / water / last-dregs-from-her-father’s-beer-can concoctions. My stories told of a responsible girl who saved the world by babysitting a younger brother and a baby sister while the mother lie in bed deathly ill and the grandmother watched TV and knitted. I was a writer.
I continued to sing everywhere and anywhere.
I composed my own version of the “Happy Birthday” song – featuring a monstrous background of triplets over the top of solid chords in Kindergarten, having learned music theory before any instrument. This was a byproduct, I suppose, of being able to read well and having a penchant for nerdy intellectual things.
I so desperately ached to be recognized as special, as intelligent.
By elementary school, I sang old-fashioned Baptist hymns in our very Missouri Synod Lutheran church in three-part harmony with my mom and sister for the special music portion of the services. I sang in the choir at school, in the children’s choir at church and, for several years, in a Twin Cities wide youth honor choir. I also taught myself to play piano with a few helpful hints from my grandmother who had, before she married my grandfather, trained to be a concert pianist.
In Fifth Grade, I discovered the flute. (Enter a new world to be conquered.)
I stopped singing with my voice, instead I channeled my feelings and emotions through this elegant piece of metal. I began babysitting to pay for lessons as my parents did not have the means or inclination for them. And, there were no books I could find that would teach me about intonation. I began obsessively playing six to eight hours a day and soon began outperforming my instructor. A recommendation, an interview and an audition got me a coveted spot studying with Emil Niosi from the MN Orchestra. He only worked with six to eight students at a time. He had gone to Juliard, studied in Paris and was friends with James Galway. I was enraptured ( and even more dedicated.)
A couple of years with Mr. Niosi and we were talking Eastman School of music for me (Juliard). I played in the Marching Band, the Pep Band, the Orchestra, the Jazz band, the concert band and a wind ensemble. Some concert music was seriously chosen to highlight me (the Nutcracker Suite and Peter and the Wolf specifically.) I began regularly playing flute for our church and other people’s churches. I composed holiday music for services, pretentious things like “The Virgin Birth of Christ / Mary’s Lament: A Christmas Suite for Pipe Organ, Flute and Bassoon.”
I was waiting to hear back about my audition for Eastman when I crushed my hand in an accident.
I shattered the bone that connects your thumb and first finger to the rest of your hand. At that time (I don’t know if it would be different today), my hand was deemed inoperable. It was in a cast three months. It didn’t heal (maybe because I would not stop playing piano) and required a second cast for a second three months.
The high school hired a professional musician to cover my solos in the Christmas concert.
And then came a soft hand brace.
The high school hired the same musician to cover the solos they had expected me to play in the spring concert.
In all, my hand was immobilized for nearly a year.
When I was done with the ordeal, I had no muscle tone left. Joint material in some fingers was gone. There was no money for physical therapy. (“Well, just keep squeezing the tennis ball. That will help.”)
And I was done singing – with my elegant metal, the piano, my voice or anything else. It was too painful.
I was not a musician anymore.
After high school, I got a job in a nursing home assisting a recreational therapist. After confirming rumors about my musical background, she assigned me to spend the majority of the time assisting the music therapist. But… every time my fingers touched the piano keyboard, every time I had to lead a sing along, my voice would crack and the vestiges of my broken heart would leak out of my eyes.
I quit that job.
I began waitressing, going to college.
After a time, I started once again to dream and…
I dared to sign up for voice lessons. I was not the most brilliant student. I was emotional. I had trouble controlling my head voice. My vocalizations were rather, as my professor put it, “airy.”
But, I did it. I sang in front of people.
No one ran away. No one was sympathetic. No one brought up how it was too bad the Juliard thing never came to fruition.
I started to have hope.
When no one was around, I permitted myself to hum and, on occasion, sing along with the radio.
I met, dated, became engaged to and married my husband.
I continued to hum and sing in private.
The world kept turning and soon our daughter was born.
Taken back to that innocent world of little people, of hope and dreams, innocence and purity, one night, I sang to my daughter as I rocked her to sleep.
“Hush little baby don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…”
Towards the end of the song, I noticed my husband standing in the doorway.
Shyly smiling, I trepidatiously began a song from my long-ago childhood.
“The life of a voyageur, that of a sojourner. Travels around and round, but not from town to town. He travels the lakes and streams, follows his distance dreams….”
“Really?” My husband interrupted.
He started laughing. “Are you trying to put her to sleep or scare her? I came in here because it sounded like a dying cat.”
I did not sing again for 19 years.
But… two years ago, my husband moved out.
And… (she admits shyly while blushing…)
… a year ago, I started singing along with the radio when I am alone in the car.
And… (she admits shyly while blushing…)
… a few months ago, I started singing – sometimes loudly – along with the hymns in church.