Drusilla! My head, please.

Drusilla! My head, please.

Caligula is watching his pregnant sister Drusilla sleep. Drusilla is his constant companion. She soothes him when he has his headaches. She plays the goddess to his god. She is pregnant by him, as it happens. He wonders aloud can the child of Zeus be greater than Zeus? Will his child be greater than he? It’s a question all prospective parents ask themselves at some point, I shouldn’t wonder. But Caligula is no ordinary prospective parents and his question is answered with bloody certainty.

Four weeks ago I received confirmation that I have another brain tumour. Yes, that’s right, another. This is my second in nine years. The first was surgically removed in 2009. There are two medications specifically for the treatment of this kind of tumour. Bromocriptine is one and Cabergoline is the other. When the first tumour was diagnosed I was given Bromocriptine and after an uneventful course the tumour was removed surgically. I say uneventful because, in my case, the medication did not work at all. (This is not unusual. My body does not respond to medical interventions designed to shrink benign masses.) My prolactin did not go down, the tumour did not shrink, and it was too large to risk leaving in place in hope that another medication would work. Both drugs are dopamine agonists, which means they mimic the effects of dopamine without actually being converted into dopamine. Both drugs are also used to treat Parkinson’s, except that the dose is significantly larger. Both drugs are also ergot derivatives. Yes, that ergot; the fungus that grows on rye and other cereal grains that can cause ergotism in humans. What’s ergotism? I’m so glad you asked. Ergotism is ergot poisoning, plain and simple. Symptoms include: convulsions, diarrhea, mania, psychosis, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. In the 1970s Linnda R. Caporael, a professor at Rensselaer,  posited that ergot poisoning was the basis of the bewitchment at Salem that lead to the witch trials.

Three weeks ago I started taking Cabergoline. I take a half pill twice a week. My doctor and I discussed this at length. This is a very effective medication that most patients tolerate very well. Most report minimal to no side effects. In theory, this is such a low dose that my side effects should be minimal, if I have any at all. Well, I am having side effects.

  • Abdominal pain (7% of patients).
  • Nausea (16%-34% of patients) is my constant companion. It sets in about two hours after I eat, regardless of what I eat. The only food that does not make me sick? Peanut butter cups.
  • Dizziness (9%-17% of patients). No fast movements for me for a while.
  • Fatigue (5%-10% of patients). I am a zombie most of the day and there is not enough caffeine in the world.
  • Depression (5% of patients). It’s strange. I can’t tell if the drug is making my existing depression worse or whether dealing with the other side effects is making my depression worse. It’s not like I’m more depressed. It’s like everything is muffled.

I also can’t drink until this is over. Alcohol enhances the effect of the medication, so I must abstain until either this ends or I get the ok from the doctor. Trust me when I say when one gets word that one has a recurrence of a brain tumour one might want to indulge in an adult beverate.

I am also having very vivid dreams, several of them about my ex-husband. In the first time, we were living in a studio apartment across from The Flatiron Building. I kept telling him he had to get a job. In the second dream he was on the periphery, bobbing and weaving like he did, like his father did before him. Last night, I was talking to one of my personal heroes, Lou Reed, in a freight elevator and when I awoke the strains of Busload of Faith were still in my head.

You can’t depend on your family
You can’t depend on your friends
You can’t depend on a beginning
You can’t depend on an end

You can’t depend on intelligence
Ooh, you can’t depend on God
You can only depend on one thing
You need a busload of faith to get by, watch, baby

Busload of faith to get by
Busload of faith to get by
Busload of faith to get by
You need a busload of faith to get by

I’m still processing, I guess. I have a lot to process. I have decided that with this tumour, and especially with these side effects, that I need to be selfish. It’s a matter of survival.

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I Keep Telling Myself, Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

I Keep Telling Myself, Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

 I stopped reading the Love & Sex section of The Guardian, for obvious reasons. Today, however, a piece caught my eye. Women and Desire: The Six Ages of Sex. I scrolled down to the woman in her 40s, started reading, and rolled my eyes. She’s 41. The only thing that kept me from laughing out loud is that I am at work, on a national holiday, when most people I know are off. This is a metaphor for my sex life right now. While most people I know are married or hooking up or consciously abstaining from sex I am removed from it. Anyway, like most stories, she was divorced in her 30s remarried and now that she is in her “forties” she is a mother having spectacular sex with her second husband. I wondered if she would be so cheery were she in my situation; divorced at 46 surrounded by married couples and younger single women and nearly invisible because, “The last thing most divorced men want is women of the same age, education and outlook. You protest: this is unfair. I can only tell you of my own experience, which is that mid-life men have high expectations, a situation exacerbated by being outnumbered three to one by women.”

My situation is closer to that of Stella Grey, the author of The Guardian’s Midlife Ex-Wife Column. She confirmed what I already suspected about love, sex, and online dating. In 2014, when she started the column, she was 50. She tried online dating for 693 days before her last first date. I’m about ready to give up before I even try. I have a knack for attracting deeply sexist men who are drawn to my strength then try and hold me down. Single men here are outnumbered 12:10. Take a room and let in one hundred men. Now let in one hundred and twenty women. You get the idea. Some of us go home alone.  I scrolled down tempted to make a comment, but found someone had made it for me.

“Yes, that was my thought too. I read ’41’ and may have audibly snorted.”

This was a response to a post by someone who argued that 49 is very different from 41. Like any woman in her 40s I would say that is true to a point. But, in my case, not in the way the commentator may have intended. At 41, I would never have dreamed of completing a marathon, running, keeping up with women and men over half my age in yoga and Pilates classes. Physically, I’m in the best shape since college. I own my home. I’m managing my finances. I have great friends-near and far. My sense of humour has returned. My life if infinitely better than it was six years ago, better than it was two years ago. That doesn’t mean my life is perfect nor does it mean that my life isn’t hard. No matter how many friends I have, in the end I am still alone. I have to fend for myself. I have to catch me when I fall.

In 2011, I was 41. We were living in a 600 square foot apartment about as far out in Philadelphia as one could be and still be within city limits. I was paying all of the bills, doing all of the chores, taking high-powered injectable fertility drugs trying to get pregnant, working full time, and dealing with my increasingly unstable husband. My ex would encourage me to go get more exercise but would saddle me with all of the household duties. I was working full-time and doing everything else and he would sit and play video games and wonder why I was so tired all the time. We did everything together. My friends were his friends. His interests were my interests. I stopped having things that were mine. When my camera broke it didn’t get replaced. When he needed things, he got them. He put his needs before mine and I let him. There was no escaping. As I sit here now, I almost typed not that I ever thought of escaping. This is when I started to think about, not just dream of escaping.

Deep down, I knew the injectable drugs were not going to work. I knew the numbers we were being told at the fertility clinic were inflated. We were given numbers like 50% success when the reality was significantly lower, closer to 23%. What I did not count on were his roller coaster moods. I had to be the steady one. He took my steadiness for callous indifference. Since he was falling apart, I had to keep it together and he resented me for it. I don’t know if it was a calculated maneuver on his part but I had no time for me. I couldn’t even think of me. We did everything together. My being alone was dangerous. He hated being alone more than being with me. So long as I was around his basic needs were being met. In the scheme of things, it is better to be wanted than needed. Wants change, but we resent those we need.

And now he needs someone else. I’ve already mentioned that his girlfriend is around seven months pregnant. What I have learned in the interim is that the house, I bought it and sold it to him when we split, is on the market. There were three bids on the first day, something I attribute to my superior taste and judgment. Last I heard it is down to two. I found this out when one of my friends saw me at dinner and said, I think I have a small sense of what it was like to be married to your ex. He went on to tell me how my ex-husband asked them to witness and sign some real estate documents in front of a notary. True to form, he had not bothered to find a notary and proceeded to have a “meltdown”, a “temper tantrum” when finding one proved difficult. My friend said, it was like dealing with a five-year old. To make matters worse, and also true to form, when he got what he wanted he abandoned them at the bank. I was mortified. My friend was right, he was describing the last three-to-five years of our marriage. The differences were that when we were together I did the legwork to keep the tantrums to a minimum and when he had meltdowns I was the one left to clean up the mess and mend the fences. It was never enough. He hasn’t changed. He hasn’t grown. It hasn’t been necessary.

But there’s something else and this is what surprises our friends the most. They’re still not married. Personally, it is nothing but a curiosity to me. Perhaps, both being divorced, neither has any interest in marrying. I can certainly understand. I have no interest in marrying again. Here is a man who had a definite trajectory for our relationship-courtship, marriage, children, career (his career), retirement, death. Yet, this time he has skipped a step or two.  He is still working as a scientific consultant but who knows if he and his collaborators will continue to get grant funding. Perhaps, like many things, he planned but did not think they would be so successful so soon. That, I think, was part of the episode with my friends. He knew the house would sell, just not so soon and he has no contingency plan. He knew she would get pregnant, maybe just not so soon. She got pregnant right after she moved in, if my math is correct. All of this is converging now and, as usual, he has no back-up plan. He has been working his entire life without a net. Someone, be it his parents or me, has been there to catch him when he fell and make him look good. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if his parents or her parents are there to catch them. Maybe they will live with her parents until they find a place to live? Who knows. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I have my own monkeys-like the recurrence of a benign brain tumour.

I watch all of this with a certain wonder. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time and mental energy on someone I no longer love and have no desire to be with. I don’t wish him ill but that doesn’t mean I wish him well. I want him to learn something, to have learned something, but it looks like he hasn’t. Someone else will be there to pick up the pieces for him.

Me and a God

Me and a God

We weren’t sure we should tell you. I even asked my mom. She thought your ex should tell you but then I told her you were no longer on speaking terms. I thought it best to tell you in case you ran into them somewhere… We’ve known for a few months. We didn’t think you were in any shape to hear his news… He’s not happy, he’s scared… We thought they’d get married first… He thinks he’s getting what he wants, but it’s not going to go like he thinks. It’s going to be a shitshow…

My ex’s girlfriend is pregnant.

My friends think they are reassuring me when they say this relationship is doomed to failure. That is of no comfort because it is just as likely that it will not fail. Our marriage failed because I finally had the means to escape. I had a job and family in the area. If I didn’t have the means to escape it would have ended later, but it would have ended. The fact is that I couldn’t take it any more and as hard as it is now it is better than being with him. What is unfortunate is that I went from him to nothing-a full year without even so much as a man flirting with me. Then I got pinged in November by a man who thought I was interesting. Last Monday he dumped me. The following Friday he texted me saying we have great chemistry (we do) and if I wanted to try spooning and cuddling without “venturing into sex” to let him know. At the advice of a friend, some of the best advice I’d received in a long time, I slept on it. In the morning I texted him asking, what are you hiding from me? He said he wasn’t hiding anything. When we spoke one last time that evening, it was all about him. I had a feeling in my gut that I shouldn’t take it any further. At least it only took me five dates to figure it out. The last one took three months. I’m a feeler…

For someone who claims to be a feeler, I said, you have remarkably little regard for the feelings of others.
I’ll feel this later, he said.
No, you wont.

This is how it ends, he wanted to be friends and again I said no. I told him to go. My ex wanted to be friends and, in the end, I said no. The ex-boyfriend before him wanted to be friends and I said sure. Even after we split we were able to finish each other’s sentences, but in the end I realise he used me ill just like the others. They all say the same thing: you’re strong, you’re amazing, you’re brilliant, you deserve the best, you’ll bounce back. I am all those things but I still bounce back to nothing. I go back to being totally invisible and that’s why all of this hurts so much. That my ex bounced from woman to woman to woman, always having someone to take care of him, with little effort. I have had to manage everything myself. I have taken care of everyone else in my life and no one is willing to care for me. I don’t think I need to be taken care of, but I would like someone to care for me. That would be a nice change.

Tony Robbins said that relationships are places to give and it is not about what you are going to get out of a relationship. I’m always leery of financial gurus, particularly those who offer relationship advice. The part that stuck in my mind was when he said a relationship is where you give. He inferred that a relationship is not a place where you take. I found this to be utterly ridiculous because to me a relationship is a place where you share. It’s something you nurture and grow, or at least that’s what I thought. Maybe it is a place where you give without the expectation of getting something like respect, friendship, companionship in return. I don’t believe in love any more. Love is fleeting and ephemeral. I don’t believe in god any more either. God cares more for the welfare of those who do me ill than he does me. Coming from a religious family, this is not easy to say, but even my religious sister agrees that this is all a bit much. She asked if I wanted her husband to give me a blessing. At first, I thought why not. Then I thought, from whom.

Don’t You Play None of that Boogie Woogie for the King of Rock and Roll

Don’t You Play None of that Boogie Woogie for the King of Rock and Roll

Hello earth
Hello earth
With just one hand held up high
I can blot you out
Out of sight
Peek-a-boo,
Peek-a-boo, little earth -Kate Bush, Little Earth.

When we last saw our heroine, I was celebrating the one-year anniversary of the finalisation of my divorce. Since then, the holidays came and went, I caught a hellacious flu from which I am still recovering, had a root canal and temporary crown installed, and I got dumped by a man that I really liked. He was my first date in 15 years. He was my first real, passionate kiss in over two years. While I didn’t have sex with him, I wanted to. I even asked him to be tested for STDs and asked my gynecologist to test me as well, because I wouldn’t ask him to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself. After spending the night, the next morning he was distant, melancholy. He stared out the window of the diner where we had breakfast. I watched him intently, trying to engage-nothing. Later that evening he texted me and instead of long texts full of cheek and fun I got one and two word answers. Finally, yesterday I texted him, can we talk. I thought it all out very carefully and was going to tell him what I felt. That I liked the way I felt when I was with him. I never got the chance.

I can’t give you what you want. I shouldn’t even be dating right now, much less be in a relationship. I’m a one-date wonder. I’ve done this before. I wasn’t in a relationship for three years when I was in my 40s. I dated here and there and when I miss intimacy I can get a massage at one of those parlors. I need to get my act together. My work schedule is crazy. I’m a feeler. Sometimes, I feel things so intensely I feel nauseous. I saw the hint of sadness in your eyes and I just couldn’t. I’ve spent years, decades building my self esteem. I’m not going to be a sub for you. It’s not you. You’re great. You’re amazing…

He said he wanted to give me a full body massage. He said he wanted to make love all night. He said he wanted to tease me until I couldn’t stand it any more. He said he wanted to make love on the beach in winter. He said he wanted to make love on Mars. He said he wanted to fuck me in his van. He said I was a sexy minx. He said we were lovers at Versailles. He said if we’d met in high school we would have fucked each other’s brains out. He said I was a strong, badass woman. He went into great detail. He said a lot of things. And then he began to pull away. He said he wanted to meet my friends but when he actually met them he was visibly uncomfortable. I reminded him that he said he wanted to meet my friends and his response was, I did didn’t I. He told me he wanted me to cook for him but he couldn’t tell me what he wanted. He told me countless times how he wanted to fuck me but in the end he ran and hid behind it’s not you, it’s me. Funny thing is, not once did he ask what I wanted. He assumed. He assumed wrong. He thought I wanted commitment. I told him I wanted joy and pleasure and light. I wanted breezy and fun. I even told him that if he was seeing other people that was fine, so long as I knew where I stood. When bad weather kept him from visiting, he lamented that the heart wants what it wants. I’m not going anywhere, I told him. I wasn’t. And then he said, if you ever want to go for coffee, let me know.

I don’t think so, I said.

You see, if you hurt me you don’t get to be my friend. You don’t get to feel better about yourself. You don’t get to say, see what a great guy I am because we’re still friends. This has happened with every relationship I’ve ever had. He feels bad about hurting me but doesn’t want to be the bad guy so he asks if we can be friends. I say yes thinking it’s the adult thing to do when I’m placating him, putting his needs before mine. I find myself wondering if he meant anything he said, and I realise that I will never know. I will never have the chance to ask. He will move on from this and express relief that he got away from some broad who wanted to tie him up and spank him and wanted him to get tested for STDs.

At the end of our conversation I wished him well. I hope you find what you’re looking for, I told him. I hope we both find what we’re looking for, he replied. His toothbrush sits in my bathroom. I’ll put it through the dishwasher and try to return it to him. I’m classy that way. Otherwise, back to middle-aged obscurity I go.

The Saddest Music in the World is in Your Head

The Saddest Music in the World is in Your Head

My divorce became final a year ago yesterday. On December 3rd of 2015 the divorce decree arrived in the mail. Sometime in early November of last year my ex-husband phoned me and he sounded pissed. They lost our filing, he said, that’s why it’s taken so long. They have to reconstruct our July filing from the April initial filing. You mean to tell me, I asked, that we have been married for the past three months due to a clerical error? Tell me you can’t see that humour in this? The Clerk of the Court was most apologetic and a week later she phoned my ex to tell him that our filing had been reconstructed and the papers were on the judge’s desk. The week after that she phoned to say the judge was taking time off before the Thanksgiving holiday and that our filing would be signed before the month was out. It’s still on my refrigerator a year later.

My therapist asked me, since I had been thinking so much about my part in my divorce, what WAS my part in the breakup of my marriage. (In no particular order)

  • I did not love being married. I’m not sure I even liked being married.

    All of a sudden I went from making my own arrangements and looking after myself to making all of the arrangements and looking after two people and I hated it. I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden it was my job to do, well, everything. I thought we were going to be a team, and we were at first, but then I became part of a unit.

  • I mourned the loss of my independence and freedom.

    I really liked being single. It’s like Tom Waits said, “Goin’ out when I want to, comin’ home when I please./ I don’t have to ask permission/If I want to go out fishin’./And I never have to ask for the keys.” Granted, I was in one of the greatest places in the US to be single-New York. Don’t get me wrong, New York can be tough. Most of my fellow grad school recruits left after the first  year. I loved it. I became a New Yorker. I found my neighbourhood. I found my family. I went to the opera and the theatre and sat in the cheap seats (Family Circle). I stood outside of Irving Plaza and listened to Sleater-Kinney. I went to the Fringe Festival and Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric theatre. I volunteered at a film festival just so I could hear Andre Gregory. I went to baseball games with my fellow librarians. I had a great life and I gave it up when I got married.

    Being a virgin, I didn’t crave sex like I do now; I didn’t know what I was missing. Even mediocre is better than none.

  • I stopped talking to him.

    This is what I do when I do not see a point. There was no point in telling my parents I was sexually assaulted because, what were they going to do? There was no point in telling them about the daily humiliations and indignities I suffered in school because there was no point. We argued about the same things time and time again. Finally I gave up, which brings me to my next point.

  • I gave up.

    Winston Churchill is credited as saying, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Well, you know what? I did.  I gave up. I pulled up stakes and followed him around the country. I let his quest for a career overshadow my established career because I thought I could get a job anywhere. For the most part, I was right. But I was tired of the uphill battles. I was tired of asking him for a more equitable distribution of household labour only to be met with I know we fight about this a lot. I was tired of telling him he hurt my feelings only to be met with it wasn’t what I said it was how you took it. I was tired of the incessant negativity. I was tired of being told that what I felt was wrong.

  • I turned him down for sex a lot.

    I am not the type of woman who punishes a man by withholding sex, unless that is part of the consensual dynamic of your BDSM relationship-then oh! Otherwise, it’s mean and childish. Besides, why deprive myself of the pleasure. That being said, foreplay was fast and sloppy and the sex got boring. It also hurt like hell. It is hard to get excited about something that causes tearing, burning pain every time you’re engage. He knew it hurt and he tried to accommodate me, but it didn’t work. Oral sex felt great but I couldn’t move the way I needed; he’d pin down my legs. The more I fought the more he resisted. And he was always in a hurry.

    Sex became another source of mutual frustration. He wanted sex all the time. I found the sex to be wanting and I’m sure he did too. While he had no trouble initiating, it was very difficult to get him to respond. He wasn’t very vocal and he wasn’t verbal. He never told me something felt good unless I asked. If he didn’t like something he didn’t tell me what would make it better even when I asked. If I was having fun that was fine with him, except I would have had more fun if he enjoyed it too. Consequently, after 10 years of this I think I am lousy in bed and why would any man get involved with a woman who’s a lousy lover? I wanted to enjoy sex. I still want to enjoy sex, but it’s been two years and two months. It feels like I am watching a ship sail away.

  • There were times during my marriage where I was frustrated and resentful.

    One fine Saturday afternoon I found myself standing in the kitchen. Laundry was going in the washing machine. I had just finished putting groceries away. I had emptied and filled the dishwasher and set the timer to go off in four hours when the laundry would be done in the washer. The house was a mess, particularly the kitchen. My ex was nowhere insight. I am living the feminist dream, I thought. I’m doing it all. This was a typical late Saturday morning for me.

    Fed up with being in the car with him and him asking me, do you know what your problem is, I decided to minimise my alone time with him by grocery shopping alone. I would get up at 6:30, take a quick shower, and leave by 7:00 grocery list in hand. I was usually home by 9:30 or 10. Sometimes he was just getting up, at the very least he was still in his bathrobe getting himself a cup of coffee. This was typical for us. I would have been up for hours when he was just starting his day. Then he would ask why I was so tired all the time. One day he asked me to write down my schedule for the week. He was floored when he learned that between work, other commitments, and housework I was booked solid from 7am-10pm Monday-Friday, 7am-9pm on Saturdays, and from 8am-7pm on Sundays. Seeing it on paper in front of him he saw what I had been trying to tell him for years-that I never catch a break. He helped around the house for a week. Then it was back to the same routine; me doing the work alone and him asking why I was so tired all the time.

  • While we did discuss many things before we were married, we didn’t discuss everything.

    I didn’t realise that before one gets married one needs to discuss absolutely everything with one’s future life partner. We discussed children, my career, his career, my keeping my name, the things I thought were important. He wanted two children. I didn’t want children until I met him. I thought he was someone with whom I could have a child, one child. We compromised on a child and a cat. At first I proposed that I keep my job and he travel wherever his postdocs took him. I made more money and thought I would act as the anchor. His disagreed and said he thought it would be bad for us to be apart so early in our marriage. His mother followed his father around Europe with his studies and I think my ex felt I should do, or want to do, the same. I didn’t but I acquiesced. My logic was simple; with my degree and skill set I should be able to get a job anywhere and for the most part I was right. I hated it and was miserable. We both were. All in all my career didn’t take much of a hit and I have yet to encounter an interviewer who didn’t understand that I picked up stakes for my husband’s fledgling career. They don’t call it the two-body problem for nothing. We didn’t discuss housework because I didn’t think it needed to be discussed. I assumed he would help. After all, my father packed his lunches and did his own laundry. When my mother worked afternoons, he tried to make dinner. I remember one night he even tried to make cookies for us. My father is not a feminist. He was just a normal guy looking after his two little girls as best he could, afraid he would lose us like he did his son.

    Before the wedding, we had three counseling session with the Rabbi who married us. In these sessions we discussed the usual things: our attitudes about children, money, the future, building a life together. The most glaring difference was in our attitudes about money, which came as no surprise. he came from it and I did not; it was that simple. He could, and often did, go to his parents for financial assistance, especially when we were trying to have a child. His parents were willing, even though his father was reluctant. I couldn’t ask my parents as they simply didn’t have it. I look back at the cost of our wedding with guilt. Our wedding wasn’t extravagant, but now that the marriage is over that money could have gone to better things. Like many things.

    As time passed it was as though those conversations we’d had about marriage, family, the advice we received from the Rabbi about money and working together, and career never happened. He couldn’t understand why working was so important to me. In his mind, I seemed suddenly indifferent to children with each failed injection or implantation. Instead of the seven-year itch it was like seven-year amnesia, except it happened around year five. The man I met and fell in love with became the man with a boot on my neck. I don’t know how it happened but I know I let it happen.

     

One Little Year

One Little Year

Augustus: What were you thinking tonight, my dear? Ah, of poor Drusus. Yes, yes, yes. I , I was thinking of him tonight too. Rome cannot afford such a loss. Ah, I pray to the gods that these boys will be as noble and as virtuous as he was. You mustn´t dwell on it. I mean, a year has gone by and that´s quite long enough for grief, now. More is not the Roman way, you know. Musicians, play us out! Let us have music to take us to our sleep.
Antonia: A year. Is that all it is? One little year? -I, Claudius.

On November 30th my divorce will have been final a year. Over the course of the past year I have been slowly and awkwardly settling into the rhythms of life as a middle-aged, single woman. I go to work. I go to the gym. Once in a while I go to a class at the Wine School of Philadelphia. I go to the Mutter Museum and the Art Museum on occasion. I go to choir practice, although I must admit I’m having a hard time of it this semester. I’m thinking of taking next semester off. Most of the time, however, I am alone; reading, knitting, cooking, cleaning, talking to my cat. Early in my divorce friends took me to the opera, the orchestra, and the theatre, but that doesn’t happen so much now. I go to services and sit with my friends where before I sat in the back. One particularly lonely Friday night I confided to a friend that I felt out of place. He said come sit with us in Row J, who cares if your late. I was raised that if you are late you sit in the back. My parents were acutely aware of appearances. But he was right who cares if I’m late. They say that in your 40s you stop caring about what other people think and in your 60s you realise no one’s watching you anyway. In my teens the pressure to please my parents was immense. An impossible task as their happiness was a moving target. In my 20s I didn’t care much about what other people thought because I didn’t have anyone to please. That changed when I married. I had a husband whose happiness was also a moving target.

We barely speak anymore, my ex-husband and me. When we first separated he tried to treat me like a live-in girlfriend. He offered himself for sex once. No, I said, Just no. I’m sure that was more for his pleasure than mine.He pinched my nipples once. I smacked him. He swatted me on the ass once. I yelled at him. He called me his babe once. I told him off. I told him he needed to stop phoning. Before that he would text me or phone me at least once a week. One week he phoned me every day. My ex-husband has become like a dandelion that has gone to seed. When I speak of him, and I still do sometimes, I’m sending the seeds aloft never to return.

Although I will say I miss sex like crazy-like crazy. I don’t miss sex with my ex-husband at all. I miss an idea of it: smooth skin, soft hair, light caresses, laughter, the vulnerability, the excitement, the familiarity, the curiosity, begging my permission, granting permission, licking, biting, sucking, losing myself, letting go, the weight, the gravity. Thinking about it now…I’m in my office.  My sister told me it’s a form of self-pity, that I am dwelling on what I don’t have. It’s not. I don’t feel sorry for myself because it’s the one thing that I don’t have. I don’t have bookshelves either but I don’t think about them all the time. It’s a longing and a need and a desire for a connection with a man.  She has always been one who prides herself on her superiority and self-denial. She’s very Victorian that way.

Single middle-aged women who actually talk about life post-divorce seem to be in two camps-the ones who date and the ones who don’t. I haven’t, as I have been going through the hard work of rebuilding my life and my self. But I haven’t experienced many of the rituals I read and hear that many single middle-aged women experience. I don’t have a group of single, middle-aged women friends with whom I commiserate. I don’t have teenage children telling me it’s time to get out there. No one has tried to set me up with a friend or a relative. I’m being warned off online dating even though it seems to be the only way people meet. I’m thinking it might be time to dip a toe in, just a toe, fully prepared for the likelihood that I may not get a single response, much less one from a man who is under 60. I don’t really care if he’s white collar or blue collar or clerical collar. He doesn’t have to be Jewish (because that worked so well the last time). I have my own place and my own income. I don’t need a man to support me financially. I just don’t want a man who thinks he’s going to sponge off me. I don’t care if he’s tall or short, I like eyes at a level. I like big men and am a sucker for dark eyes, the darker the eyes the closer to stupid I get. Thin would be an interesting change of pace as would blue eyes, otherwise I don’t care. Adherence to basic hygiene would be an improvement as would basic social graces and table manners. I don’t need overprotective or jealous and I certainly don’t want to get married again.

Internal Injuries

Internal Injuries

 

She came for the weekend with a bottle of SAMe. It will lift your mood, she said. She had not tried it herself. My mother has always had an infatuation with alternative remedies. Their house is full of vitamin supplements and herbs. She is always looking for something to make her better. Her insomnia is caused by her being a night person. She would take Valerian but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because of her antidepressants and she’s just a night person. It has nothing to do with the fact that she drinks up to six cans of Diet Coke a day. Sometimes she drinks it because it’s good. Other times she drinks it because she is convinced that the caffeine gets her medication into her system faster. It is about everything else other than her own part in her own problems. Once when a stitch on her arm became infected, she became obsessed with thyme water. I just need to put some thyme water on it and it will clear up. She didn’t try to find or make thyme water, she just knew that was what she needed. Finally, my sister took her to the local immediate treatment centre where some Neosporin and a band-aid cleared the infection in a day. Believe me, the irony of what I point out is not lost on me. I know the part I play in my own loneliness. The difference between my mother’s situation and mine is that I do try to put myself out there as best I can. Putting myself out there has always been difficult, and it has not gotten any easier with the passage of time.

The plan was she would take the train in on Friday morning and we would go to breakfast. I’m never quite sure what my mother communicates to my sister, so I texted the plan to her. She must have forgotten about my birthday party, she said. She must have, I replie. I didn’t know my sister was having a birthday party. I was not invited. What more could I say? I texted my mother back with a new plan. I would get a car, drive out for the party, and she would come home with me that night. The rest of the weekend would involved lunch with friends, shopping (one of her favourite activities), a free screening of Turandot in a local park, a visit to a favourite kitchen shop, exploring the city, and talking. I hoped we would have a nice weekend like we had a month before where it was just the two of us, not like the day two weeks before with my father.

Saturday I woke her at 9:30 and found her in good spirits. She asked what the plan was and when I reminded her, she was excited about lunch. After lunch, her mood began to change. I brought up the possibility of my taking a vacation in the spring and she began to fixate on places in my neighbourhood where she could get food and supplies. She started reading every sign and every menu. When I brought up the opera she began to hem and haw. When I found out it had been postponed due to rain she was relieved. I tried to talk politics with her, but she shut me down saying I was yelling. One did not raise one’s voice in my parents’ house, so anything above quiet is yelling. Putting a finger in someone’s chest or threatening them was acceptable. Then it started. Maybe guys think you’re a lesbian. You are very interested in gay rights and reproductive rights. You’re very opinionated. Maybe men think you’re gay. My mother thinks I am a closeted lesbian. I don’t know where it came from but she has been harbouring belief for close to 30 years. Actually, she’s probably held it for longer but she first articulated this belief the night I told her I had been sexually assaulted. I was 19. She has this in her head and nothing I do or say shakes it.

The following morning I woke my mother up at 9:30 and told her if we wanted to get to the kitchen store before it closed at 1 that we needed to get going. I felt how my father must feel. He had told me countless times how he has to prod my mother into action. She asked what the plan was. I told her kitchen store in the morning and opera in the afternoon and whatever she wanted in between. The visit to the kitchen store went fine but I found she got more disagreeable as the day progressed. She kept asking for the plan for the day. When I brought up the opera she became distant. Finally I asked her if she really wanted to go. She said if I wanted to go she would go. I told her, no mom because if you go and you don’t want to be there you’ll be miserable. Forced to make a decision she opted not to go. While walking to get snacks she started in again. You should grow out your hair an inch. Not much, just an inch. Why don’t you wear contacts? You practically begged for contacts when you were in high school. Why don’t you wear them? When did they get uncomfortable? When you were in college? Technology has changed. They’re better now. Once again, it was about my appearance, my attitude. With my mother, something has always been wrong with me. There were times when I would see her after a prolonged absence and the first thing she would say was, your skin’s breaking out again or your skin looks good. My father has, so far as I know, never defended me. In the midst of yet another barrage I texted my sister, Shoot me.

She started, Shoot me. In the days before text messaging she would phone and whisper Shoot me! Shoot me! to my voicemail. I would phone her back and she would regale me with tales of what our mother had done this time. My father barely engages when he visits.  I would tell her I was sorry and to hang in there. When I texted her with shoot me and followed with her haranguing me about my appearance (again), she told me I should be more forgiving. Instead of my sister, I got the Relief Society president. My heart sank and I put my phone away. Our evening was to be spent watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  Midway through an episode she pronounced, she’s a loose woman. I said, no she’s an independent woman of means who solves crimes, enjoys sex and has it with whomever whenever she chooses. Hmmpf, was her answer. Hmmpf is her answer whenever I defend myself, which I do more and more these days. I must defend myself and there is not one else who will defend me.

I put her on the train the following morning and went off to Rosh Hashanah services at a different synagogue. Three hours into the service and hopelessly lost, I left and had lunch with a friend. The next morning I fell into a sobbing heap on the bedroom floor and smashed a plastic hanger on the closet door. Later, I recovered myself and went for a walk. I bought my first tube of waterproof mascara. That night I phoned my father to wish him a belated birthday. I told him what happened and while sympathetic he didn’t have much to say except, you know, when your mother is with you she’s with you. When she’s with your sister, your sister shuts herself away in her office and your mother spends most of the day alone. I had often wondered how my sister managed my parents’ visits and now I knew. She avoided them for as long as possible. The laser focus of our mother’s criticism stopped for her when she left home the first time. She’d stopped engaging our mother after that. I continue to be the focus of my mother’s criticism because I have no place in which to hide while she is here. I have no choice but to engage. I had the answer to the question my therapist had asked weeks ago. My sister avoids my mother’s criticism by hiding. My father and I have no choice but to be present.

My mother and I are going to have a talk when she returns in December. I have decided that she needs to know that she her constant criticism isn’t helping, it’s hurting. She is doing what my ex-husband used to do. His criticism was relentless compared to hers but the end result is still the same. She needs to know that when I come to her I need support not advice. I am fine with the way I look, even if others are not. I know what I need to do. I do not need her to tell me that it was time to stop grieving the end of my marriage. Grief is not the way in our family. Your marriage is over. You dodged a bullet. You’re better off without him. There is nothing to grieve. I didn’t need her to tell me any of that. The bottle of SAMe she brought did the trick.