Your Next Assignment

Your Next Assignment

My therapist gave me another assignment-write another 25 shitty things your ex did during your marriage. She gives me interesting assignments like get a massage, write, stand naked in front of a mirror and rub lotion all over yourself, find a man who’s a young 60 just for the experience. As always, these are in no particular order.

  1. When I cut off my hair he greeted me at the door and said, you look like a guy i’m going to have to start fucking you from behind. I said, keep talking like that and you’re never fucking me again.
  2. He hit on our friends in front of me and then he’d deny it.
  3. He hit on strangers and told me about it afterwards.
  4. In ten years of marriage, I can’t remember him telling me I looked nice more than few times.
  5. He told me we were sexually incompatible yet wasn’t open to discussing how to make things better. He didn’t like me being on top because he “didn’t feel anything” but never made suggestions. So now I just think I’m lousy in bed and will warn any potential lovers of that fact. Oh wait, there won’t be any.
  6. At a party, he walked up to a friend of ours and said, let’s pretend we’re having an affair. She said no. I don’t know if he was ever actually unfaithful, I’m not sure I care.
  7. He told me I was silly.
  8. I don’t remember him helping around the house after I had brain surgery apart from setting me up on the sofa bed.
  9. He always chose his mother over me, something which continues to resonate as he says his new girlfriend is a lot like his mother. My mother told me a story where here my babcia (father’s mother) came to visit and found my mother ironing his boxers. My babcia told my mother that if her son wanted his boxers ironed he could do it himself. That’s what I expected from my marriage, that he would do for himself but he never did.
  10. He has continued to text me now that we are divorced and he always asks if I’m seeing someone. It feels more like a temperature check than actual concern.
  11. When my father told him he could help around the house more his response was, that’s not part of my culture.
  12. Not long after taking his second postdoc my ex told the head of the department that his study was flawed because the sample size was too small. My ex was out by the end of the year. The reason he was given was not enough money. That’s the reason he gave me. He told my mother about the discussion with the department head but he never told me. I just found out about this conversation a month ago.
  13. He stopped telling me I was sexy.
  14. No was seldom no with him and he would badger until I acquiesced. For example, he hounded me about having dinner with his new girlfriend for two months before I finally realised he was not going to stop until I joined them for dinner.
  15. When I was packing I found our ketubah in a stack of my photographs. He put it with my stuff to get it out of the house. He didn’t want single Jewish women coming over and seeing our marriage contract on the wall. He actually told me this, so I’m not making an assumption. He also said that I wouldn’t be having guys over that soon. I burned the ketubah at a party marking the first anniversary of our initial filing.
  16. He left all of the household chores to me, but didn’t give me time to complete them. He would schedule time with friends or family on the weekends which was the only time I was home. Then he’d complain that the house was a mess. The biggest ongoing arguments that we had were over the division of labour. I expected equal participation and he expected me to do it all.
  17. He picked on my father for not having a college education.
  18. He texted a mutual friend after I left for work, worried about their relationship. She reminded him that they didn’t have a relationship. When it finally sank in that she was not interested in him he sent her a long, condescending email.
  19. He stopped taking care of himself. When we agreed to divorce he was nearly 300lbs. I would come home from work and he would still be in his bathrobe, un-showered, either watching television or playing video games. Now I like big men, but there’s a limit. When we decided to split up he bought a cross-trainer and lost 100lbs.
  20. He says I hurt him as much as he hurt me, which is interesting in light of how quickly he has moved on. They met in October 2015, started seeing each other exclusively in November 2015, and she’s living with him as of September 2016. That doesn’t strike me as the behaviour of someone who has an emotional investment in a relationship. That strikes me as the behaviour of someone who moved on long ago.
  21. He wanted us to go to counseling but insisted that I find the therapist. When the therapist started calling him on his nonsense he stopped going.
  22. One night, he was driving me to a therapy appointment and he harangued me about how I wasn’t there for him, how he needed me to be there for him. When I asked what he needed me to do he said things like. I need you to be strong. I don’t need you to be depressed. He dropped me off. I loped into the therapist’s office and relayed the evening’s events to him. Do you think this marriage can be saved, he asked? I’m beginning to think not, I replied.
  23. He started dating while we were still legally married.
  24.  He asked to use my AAA membership so he could get a tow to a tire store-after the divorce became final
  25. He told me if I did not find a place to live by october 2015 he was going to charge me rent. Then asked what I thought was fair.
  26. I began to fear him.

It’s very easy to look at this list, and the previous list, and say that’s it? That’s all he did? Well, he didn’t cheat on you (that you know of). He didn’t hit you? These seem like petty grievances. Couldn’t you patch things up? Did you try to reconcile, give each other a second chance? The short answer is no. There was no fix to our marriage. If anything we limped along for too long.

There were several factors in my decision to leave. The first was that I did not want to go through the emotional wringer of trying to have a child with him again. With each implantation and subsequent failure his mood swings became more extreme. His job situation was precarious at best. Unable to get a faculty position, he has been working from grant-to-grant for the past few years. I like being the breadwinner, don’t get me wrong, but it does take two incomes. I couldn’t take the uncertainty. His behaviour has become stranger and more erratic. He would be driving and all of a sudden he would shudder in his seat. We would be walking and suddenly he would speed up and his arm would flail over his head. He would have these strange spasms when he sat in a chair or on the couch. He got more rigid, more feral. It was all very, very strange.

I felt less safe around him. When asked if I was ever worried if he would hit me, I said no. I was worried he would rape me. His sex drive was formidable and he’d stopped seeing me as a person long ago. He saw me as a person once, then as a potential breeder. When I couldn’t have children, I was of no use. I was no longer valid. I was no longer a she, more of an it. Much the same way he saw porn actresses he saw on the internet. He told me they are not people to him, just things. I watched myself become a thing. He’d behaved inappropriately towards me before-pinching my nipples in the kitchen slapping me on the ass at my friends’ house. Then I remembered a night not long after we were married. I was asleep. He came into the bedroom, got into bed, lay on top of me and started kissing me and hiking up my nightgown. I awoke with a 260lb man on top of me. I told him no and he stopped, fortunately, but I’m not sure he was all that interested in my consent that night. Maybe he thought he was being passionate. When I asked him about it later he said he’d been watching porn and wanted to have sex with me. I said, next time wake me up first. It’s moments like these that make me think I will never have sex again. That my need for control is such that I will never allow a man to be in charge. That I will never allow for moments of passion like these. Then I think, no, I just like to be awake during sex.

the best way out is always through

the best way out is always through

So says Robert Frost.

One afternoon, my now ex and I were discussing adolescent rebellion. He said that while he had rebelled completely, I had not. Oh really? How do you rebel so completely, I asked. He gave me the usual litany: long hair, earrings, the goatee he still wears, his music, his friends, his non-traditional career path. In my mind he barely rebelled at all apart from the usual trappings. That he had chosen a non-traditional career path was true, but then again his father had chosen a non-traditional path as well. The rest was window dressing.

When you grow up, as I did, in a household where expressing emotion is, well, discouraged dealing with strong emotions, hell ANY emotions, can be difficult. It is best to bury or sublimate; tuck your feelings away or find a more socially acceptable outlet for them and move on. Maintaining the facade, a facade built on secrecy, of the good family was paramount to my parents. My parents prided themselves on a what goes on in the house stays in the house policy. My sister and I were free to say whatever we liked in the house, but it went no further. The strange thing is that I don’t remember us talking about anything, ever. My parents may have discussed politics, current affairs, church, work, but I don’t remember my sister and I contributing. What conversation there was was never animated. One of the few outbursts I remember occurred when my sister took my mother’s “you can tell me anything” speech to heart and told her she had slept with her then boyfriend. Our mother called her a slut and a whore and damaged goods. She told my sister no decent man would ever want her. She threw my sister out of the house, then sent our father after her when she tried to leave. You think I would have learned from this lesson, but I didn’t. I tried talking to my mother about what it means to be a modern, single, middle-aged woman in the world. I try to talk to her about work, friends, dating, love, sex, feeling invisible. I so wanted to believe that I could tell her anything. It’s like going to the hardware store for groceries; you won’t find strawberries amongst the screwdrivers.

In short, I am woefully unequipped to deal with the emotions that I am experiencing. I want them to go away. They can go out for drinks or hang out on the therapist’s sofa for a while and leave me in peace. So here goes. Here’s what I’m feeling. (These are in no particular order except the one that percolates from my brain):

Relief

  • I’m glad it’s over and he’s sailing further and further away. He just told me he is leaving our synagogue. I don’t think it will be long before he is out of my life entirely. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get a wedding invitation. Maybe I’ll go.
  • I think he is mentally ill and I am glad to be away from him.
  • I’m relieved I never have to worry about whether he will hold down whatever job he has at the time. My mother recounted an episode where he told the head of the department his study was flawed. Shortly after that his bosses informed him that they didn’t have the money to fund him. Few things are as stressful as waiting to hear whether your husband’s grant funding came through and whether you will be a single- or dual-income household.
  • I’m so glad I got the cat. Just the other day I was telling a friend how we had been through a lot together the cat and me.
  • I see glimpses of the man I fell in love with and I know it won’t last. He is on his best behaviour right now but eventually the facade will crumble. I see him for what he is.

Grief

  • I mourn the loss of the man I met and fell in love with. I had him for two years then he vanished.
  • I mourn the life I gave up in New York.
  • I mourn the loss of the woman I was.
  • I mourn the end of a relationship.
  • I mourn the loss of a companion and partner. While it is better to be alone than in a bad relationship, I’ve still lost something.
  • I mourn the end of the good times.
  • I mourn the loss of regard. It’s one thing to not care about getting someone’s good opinion, it’s quite another when your spouse no longer respects you and you don’t know why.

Anger

  • I’m angry at myself for staying.
  • I’m angry at him for not having the courage to leave when he was so unhappy.
  • I’m angry that he didn’t take me up on my offer to be a bicoastal couple.
  • I’m angry that I dropped everything and moved around the country; sacrificing my career for what?
  • I’m angry that I didn’t see the writing on the wall for what it was.
  • I’m angry that he ignored me when I asked for help around the house.
  • I’m angry that he found someone so soon. My male friends tell me that they moved on quickly when their relationships (not marriages) ended. My therapist tells me it demonstrates a lack of regard for the relationship. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
  • His sense of his own self-importance is maddening.
  • This whole episode has done a number on my sense of self-worth.
  • I’m angry that I didn’t see the same behaviour patterns in my now ex that I saw in my father.
  • I’m mad that I wasn’t kinder to myself. I should have treated myself better.

Surprise

  • I’m surprised at how much I don’t miss him.
  • I’m amazed at how quickly that happened.
  • I’m surprised how many people were concerned for my safety. That they said nothing until after does not come as a surprise.
  • Considering that I don’t miss him, the depth of sadness that comes over me at times has caught me off guard.
  • That we still have amicable conversations comes as a surprise.

Longing

  • I miss intimacy.
  • I miss sex, even though I’ve probably never had good sex in my life.
  • Yes, the two are separate and interconnected. Personally, I’m not the type for one without the other. That’s why I’m not on Tinder. I missed out on most of the online dating thing, so to me being 46 and on Tinder is the sort of thing The Kids in the Hall would have lampooned.
  • I am firmly ensconced in my blanket fort with my cocoa and my graham crackers and my books and some movies. I don’t want to hear about flirting or crushes or dating. I don’t want to hear about other people’s sex lives. I don’t want to see people kiss at the end of services. I don’t want to hear about soul mates. No wedding blessings please, unless the phrase, “it’s a trap” is included. And I will do just about anything to avoid a baby naming. The professionals call this cocooning and it is normal. Wikipedia, however, likens it to agoraphobia and hermiting. I will continue to labour under the delusion that it is normal.

There are many more emotions swirling around, but these are the ones I can put to paper, as it were, today.

Blessed Be My Ability to Define Myself

Blessed Be My Ability to Define Myself

Blessed be my brain – that I may conceive my own power
Blessed be my breast–that I may give sustenance to those I love.
Blessed by my womb–that I may choose to create what I choose to create.
Blessed be my knees–that I may bend so as not to break.
Blessed be my feet — that I may walk in the path of my highest will.” -Robin Morgan

I hate that poem mostly because the poet has fallen back on the motherhood standard to define woman. If that’s how she defines herself that’s one thing. A noted composer set this poem to music for the choir in which I sing. I resent it every time we sing.

After a blissful Saturday in New York which held me over for a couple of days, I came crashing back to Earth on Tuesday evening. They were an ordinary couple. He was lightly tanned, immaculately groomed, greying at the temples. She was lightly tanned, immaculately groomed, and pregnant. He looked like he was my age. She looked like she was around the age of my ex-husband’s girlfriend. After that it seemed like I could not escape women talking about how tough their pussies were. The example most of them invariably used was childbirth. A friend of mine bragged about how her pussy could take a pounding going in and coming out. She talked about the size of her son’s head at birth. In “Hit Like a Pussy” the author also uses the birth of her daughter as proof of the strength of her vagina.  To her credit, the author does state that, “I would never equate reproductive status with womanhood, because, just, no. Nor would I ever diminish the ways of becoming a mother that don’t involve pushing a human person through a vagina. So let’s put birth aside for a moment, because pussies are intended to do all kinds of things—primarily whatever their owners choose to do with them.” But it’s already too late. In “putting birth aside for a moment” she has already established the standard by which all other experiences will be judged. The same with the Village Voice review of Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra. Ms. Wong talks about wearing, “a frozen diaper because her pussy needs to heal from the baby’s head shredding it up.” Pregnancy and birth are the standard. Surgical instruments shredded my vagina and uterus. I used pads soaked in witch hazel on my vulva. I found out about that remedy myself. No one told me. I was sent home. Better luck next time.

The first surgery, a myomectomy, happened when I was 29. I don’t like to say I had my first surgery because it makes it sound like I elected to have surgery. I did not “choose to create” the tumours that invaded my uterus. When you read the literature on fibroids, writers can be a little cavalier. They are the most common benign tumour of the pelvis in women (Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine) . Around 25% or white women and 50% of black women have fibroids during their reproductive years. Somewhere in the first paragraph you will see “Leiomyomas decrease in size during menopause,…” and “Most fibroids/myomas/leiomyomas are asymptomatic.” (Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine, Williams Obstetrics, Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment). Given their ubiquity, their general lack of symptoms, and the fact that they all but disappear after menopause it’s no wonder that medicine can be a little nonchalant even when someone who is symptomatic, like I was, comes through the door. I have heard all three of those facts from just about every physician I have seen. And my answer has always been, I am symptomatic. I am 30 years away from menopause. Watchful waiting is not acceptable. I have had my share of the caring and the cavalier over the course of my treatment.  The first surgery removed three small tumours.

After my first surgery, my gyn left her private practice and went into public health. I hunted around for another doctor and eventually found one. Symptoms were back with a vengeance within a couple of years: severe pain, bleeding through tampons/pads and clothes, pressure, bloating. She used real estate as an analogy for my suffering-location, location, location-put me on a progesterone-only mini pill and stopped taking my calls. I was suffering from morning-sickness like symptoms that lasted through lunch and my periods lasted three weeks out of four. Frustrated, I made an appointment with another gynecologist. Several ultrasounds later, I say several because I had at least two transvaginal ultrasounds that I can recall and I don’t know how many other ultrasounds, she found another two tumours and referred me to a surgeon who had an office upstairs. he looked at the ultrasound results and did a couple of his own and determined it would be a quick surgery-removing no more than three tumours, maybe four. When I came to in the recovery room he was there waiting for me. I removed 25, he said. That’s a lot, I slurred. Yes, it is, he replied and left. Later at the follow-up appoinrment I asked how the surgery went. It was tedious, like plucking grapes, he said. Would you rather have tedium or excitement in the OR, I asked? Give me tedium any day, he replied. I was 34 years old.

The symptoms returned when we were living in the intermountain west. Time and again, I got in the car for the two-hour drive to Spokane to see the gynecologist. The latest ultrasounds showed one tumour that was about the size of an orange holding court at the top of my uterus. It needs to come out, he said. The tumour? Of course, I replied. No, the uterus, he sighed. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to get a second opinion, I told him. I emailed copies of my films to my surgeon back in New York, who emailed me back the next day and said, if you can get here I will operate. I flew back in the fall. The pre-surgical consultation in his office was unforgettable. Marty the surgeon and his surgical resident hovered over my naked body as he proceeded to explain how they were going to “slice me open, yank the uterus through the muscle tissue, pop the top off, take out the tumour, sew me up, tuck me in, that’s all she wrote.” I’m right here, I said. I know, he said, you’re also one of my favourite patients. You think I have this conversation in front of all of my patients? He removed seven tumours, including the one that was the size of an orange. I My abdomen was distended and sore. I had a six-inch incision in my abdomen and an umbilical incision that changed the depth an shape of my navel permanently. A few weeks later I went back for a post-operative follow up and he found two more tumours on the ultrasound. Please let me take them out, he begged, I don’t want to send you home with more tumours. I agreed and I was wheeled into the operating room the following day. He removed 10 more tumours. I had my third and fourth surgeries when I was 36.

This was about the time when I started to make jokes about have more tumours than children or more instruments in my vagina than lovers. I laughed about it then, I don’t so much now. I knew after the second surgery that my chances of conceiving were virtually nil. I just did not think there was any recovering.  42 tumours covers a lot of real estate when your uterus is small. My ex, however, was not convinced. My periods were still long and very heavy, but he was undeterred. When we moved to Philadelphia and I started being treated at the fertility clinic. My gynecologist and I created a birth plan: three month bedrest, c-section, hysterectomy. Very simple!  When things started to go wrong, I had a hysterosalpingiogram. This is a hysterosalpingiogram:

  • You will be asked to lie on your back with your feet placed as for a pelvic exam. A device called a speculum is inserted into the vagina. It holds the walls of the vagina apart to allow the cervix to be viewed. The cervix is cleaned.
  • The end of the cervix may be injected with local anesthesia (pain relief). You may feel a slight pinch or tug as this is done.
  • One of two methods may be used to insert the dye. In one method, the cervix is grasped with a device to hold it steady. An instrument called a cannula is then inserted into the cervix. In the other method, a thin plastic tube is passed into the cervical opening. The tube has a small balloon at the end that is inflated. The balloon keeps the tube in place in the uterus.
  • The speculum is removed, and you are placed beneath an X-ray machine.
  • The fluid slowly is placed through the cannula or tube into the uterus and fallopian tubes. The fluid may cause cramping. If the tubes are blocked, the fluid will cause them to stretch.
  • X-ray images are made as the contrast medium fills the uterus and tubes. You may be asked to change position. If there is no blockage, the fluid will spill slowly out the far ends of the tubes. After it spills out, the fluid is absorbed by the body.
  • After the images are made, the cannula or tube is removed.

The hysterosalpingiogram was clear as could be. Not long after the hysterosalpingiogram, the doctor finally listened to me and ordered a hysteroscopy. I had been concerned about the condition of my uterus all along. My concerns, sadly, were justified. As the camera slipped through my cervix into my uterus I saw one large and countless small lumps being fed by an intricate network of capillaries. As he pulled around the large tumour what remained looked like the surface of the moon, grey, lumpy, lifeless. It’s not supposed to look like that, is it, I asked. No, he replied. It needs to go, I said. Yes, it does, he replied and he patted my foot. A month or so later I was recovering from a robot-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy when my ex looked at me and said, I love you very much. No, you don’t, I thought and fell asleep. When I saw my doctor later, away from my ex, I chided him saying he didn’t provide any pictures. He laughed and said your uterus was shot. There was nothing left. I read the pathology report. I had diffuse uterine leiomyomatosis a condition where the myometrium is replaced by countless, benign smooth muscle tumours. It’s a rare condition with only 30 reported cases by 2001. I had also developed adenomyosis a condition where the uterine lining breaks through the muscle wall into the myometrium where it grows and breaks down during the course of the normal menstrual cycle. On top of that I had also developed Asherman’s Syndrome. Asherman’s is rare and preventable and my surgeon followed every prevention protocol, estrogen supplements and an interuterine balloon, but to no avail. Ashmerman’s is also treatable but not in my case. Having had close to 50 tumuors removed in 10 years, there was nothing to salvage.

I do not know what it’s like to give birth, but I know what physical pain is. The difference between you and me, a friend of mine once told me, was that when it was over I had a baby. Your pain kept you from bleeding to death. Your uterus had to work as hard as mine just to stop the flow of blood in your menstrual cycle. I got an epidural, you got Advil. For the last half of my marriage, I was changing a super plus tampon hourly. I kept extra clothes at work and in the car. I slept wrapped in a towel, if I slept at all.

I have secret knowledge. I know things most women (and men) will never know. I am an expert at getting blood out of anything (hydrogen peroxide gets blood out of just about any fabric). When a women talks about the pinch of a cervical injection or suture, I know that pinch. I know how to get out of bed with a six-inch abdominal incision and I even used that knowledge to help a friend get out of bed after an emergency c-section. I know how uterine contractions build to a plateau and drop off; how the pain subsides but doesn’t go away completely until the job is done. I know what it is to have to consciously breathe through pain. It infuriates me when politicians insist that women who need abortions get transvaginal ultrasounds, because it’s being used to induce guilt and shame. I know what it is to clean a pool of your own blood. I know how to scoot down an x-ray table using my arms because my vagina is full of surgical instruments and I can’t bend my knees. I know what it is to live with someone in total denial. I know what it is to be with someone who is so focused on his wants he has no regard for your health and welfare. I know what it is to be tossed aside figuratively for something any 12-year old can do, but not literally because he doesn’t want to be the bad guy. I know what it’s like when it’s “your fault”. I also know it is tender and soft and warm like any lover’s. I have enough scars on my abdomen that I look like I survived a knife fight, and you know what? No one fucks with me at the gym. I know my pussy is strong as hell because it is battlescarred like any mothers’.  I know these things because I am strong as hell and tender and soft and warm. I know what it is to define yourself as a woman using nontraditional avenues. I also know that you pay a heavy price, maybe not immediately, maybe not forever, but you pay.

 

Writing Longhand

Writing Longhand

This is my first post where I am “winging it”. Up until this point, everything I have posted has been written longhand in a notebook and revised two or three times. Then it is revised again on this page. The difficult part about all of this writing is not that I don’t have anything to write, it’s that I have so much to write-so much to sort out-that I don’t know where to go. There’s the infertility, coupled with my own complex relationship with my mother that makes Mother’s Day such a fucking joy. There’s the years of denial on both our parts; denial that revolved around the idea that the lynch pin will fall into place and all will be well. There’s the anger, so much anger. There’s how much mental space he’s taking up in my brain. There’s not fitting in; not with the culture, not with the standard of beauty, not with women my own age, not with men my age, the list goes on. There’s the pressure to conform. There’s the longing, the constant craving for intimacy. There’s my invisibility which is tied to any number of the other issues mentioned and wanting someone to notice me but on my terms. There’s the therapist telling me that once I let go, those qualities that attract other people will emerge. Really? That hasn’t been the case so far. Then there’s my carefully curated life. It’s mine now and I will curate is as carefully as I please, thank you very much. There’s me asking myself was I abused or is this self-pity. Then there’s what’s the rush? Let yourself heal. You were together for 14 years, give yourself some time and some credit. To that I say, see all posts that are and will be tagged with intimacy.

Then, of course,  there is outer space.