Divorce, LGBT, Orientation

Orienteering

When I was 10 and first went to summer camp, I remember walking by the CampCraft hut, the place where outdoorsy girls gathered with a counselor who looked like leaves would grow on her as comfortably as hair. She would take the campers up the mountain, and they would learn to identify their surroundings, the plants and trees, the direction they were going. They learned how to build a fire and how to put it out again safely. They camped overnight – this sounded awful to me. I found the canvas tents on platforms primitive enough. I never thought about what it might mean to be able to find your way in an unfamiliar landscape, to know on which side of the tree you can find the moss, to start a fire when you need one, to use a compass to get back to familiar territory.

I chose more careful pursuits, like singing in the choir on Sunday, following the music and blending carefully so my voice didn’t stick out.

One summer, during a long car vacation, my father taught me how to read a map. Every day we would stop to fill the gas tank, and my father would ask the attendant for a fresh map. That night I would trace the journey we had taken, and the next night I would start again with a blank map, tracing the whole thing again and adding the new territory we traversed. I traced the numbered roads we took in our Country Squire to reach natural wonders and amusement parks and outdoor drama festivals, our trails previously blazed by others. Obediently, I learned the way.

I went from high school to college and out into the world with no idea that I could ever do something just because I wanted to do it. I played it safe. I tried to be just appealing enough but not *too* appealing. I married young. I had a family.

I could read a map, and I was trying desperately to follow the one I had been given. I didn’t know how to find my heart’s way around.

When I was 35 and the father of my children left our marriage, I found myself disoriented. I had lost my atlas, the guide to lifelong monogamy. We made promises! Weren’t we bound together? He got out, and even though being together was awful for both of us, I hated him. I blamed him for everything.

I scrawled fury and despair onto the pages of dozens of journals.

With neater penmanship, I attempted to redefine my life.

I carefully recorded unsettling desires pointing to women, not men.

I put the journals in a drawer.

I opened a new one and tried to draw a more familiar map, better suited to the Heteronormative Gazetteer. Maybe I hadn’t done things right. If I could be more domestic, more submissive, more available, less conventional – yes, I hear the contradiction. Around that time, I got my first computer. I printed out the directions I needed to take on trips. I always made sure to print the map, too, but usually it wasn’t big enough to help if I misread a sign. I spent my late 30s and much of my 40s following those directions, linear and inadequate. If I made the right turn, if I followed the list exactly…

This approach to travel left me more than once asking for directions in a New Jersey gas station when I got on 78 East instead of 78 West.

This approach to life left me more than once wondering where in Hell I was.

Imagine you’ve been living in a country where no one speaks the language you heard in the womb. Somewhere in the farthest, deepest corners of your consciousness you remember that language, but it’s been so long since you heard it, you wouldn’t be able to speak it yourself. In the course of your travels you cross into a No Man’s Land between the place you’ve been raised and the land where they speak those words you can only hear in muffled memory.

You decide not to go back.

How will you find your way? You can’t read the map; you have a feeling for the way the language sounds, but you do not recognize the printed words.

You look for a compass, if you’re one of those girls who signed up for CampCraft, but if you’re me, you give thanks for Siri and trust you’ll be able to find your way home again.

Or maybe home for the first time.

20131015-151759.jpg

Deuteronomy 34:1-14, Divorce, Funerals, Proper 25A

The Whole Land

She asked me a few weeks before, his stepdaughter, a member of my church. Would you come to the hospital and see my mother’s husband? He’s dying.

I went. I learned, first on the cardiac floor and later in Special Care, of the second marriage, the two families of children, the disputes between the tribes in the early years and the quiet detente later. I heard all about the beloved dog who came to visit in the hospital, a sign that there would be no recovery.

And I really didn’t have a chance to know him, except through their stories and a few quick visits, and the relationship built in prayer–the family gathered around the bed holding hands and the hurried mentions in the car and the solemn requests made in church. One of the prayers murmured, off the record, was that no one would fight over him at the end.

It was my first funeral, and I echoed that prayer, fervently.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4, NRSV)

This is what we read at his graveside service.

The end of Moses’ life seems so wistful. He was forever being called to the high ground to meet with the LORD. Against his better judgment, or his stubborn wishes, he went along with what God asked him to do. Left in charge of a squabbling nation, he went back to God over and over asking for help and guidance. Overwhelmed by his responsibilities, he trained up other leaders to assist him in carrying the great weight. And in the end, all he got was the long view.

It was my first funeral, and I prayed that the family would not break apart further in the emotion of the moment.

Then, sometime in the last day or two of his life, his children and stepchildren gathered together, finally. They stopped pretending that life goes on forever, that grudges can be held without harm being done to the grudged and the grudging. In a muddy cemetery, so wet we had to walk across boards to the place we would speak words over their father, they all had the same wish: to support his wife and to honor him.

It took them a long time to forgive him for making a new family, for remaining loyal to the old one, the concerns of children carried into full middle age. But their love for him at the end–the reconciliation of two sets of grown-up offspring and the gathering of one family–felt like a glimpse into the Promised Land.

Children, Divorce, Marriage, The Inner Landscape

Better on the phone

Over the weekend, I talked on the phone with The Father of My Children. That’s not unusual. We still have a 16-year-old, after all, and we both drive her places and although we have a regular schedule, there are always things to discuss.

There have always been things to discuss. We do better on the phone, mostly, than we ever did in person. On Saturday, I noted it had been 28 years since our wedding took place. We have spent more years apart than we spent together, although there have been plenty of trips to see sons perform at college, awards assemblies, graduations, recitals and concerts and plays, holiday meals at my table and random meetings all over the greater City By the Sea area. Some of those were hard at first. Now they’re just what we do.

This weekend, TFoMC took the time to help me with a home repair, by which I mean he did the multi-step repair while I stood by and handed him things and tried to be helpful as well as amusing. The expression “little more than a girl” applies to the person I was when we met in 1982. I was so busy trying to be the nice girl my mother wanted me to be that I hadn’t even tried to figure out who I was. And although there is almost always relationship blame to go around, I can’t imagine it was very satisfying to be married to someone who was playing a part that didn’t suit her, trying desperately to be the sweetly singing mechanical bird whose song is only heard when someone else winds her up and lets her play.

I was angry for a long time that I didn’t meet his expectations, or that I couldn’t, or that his expectations turned out not to be me, or (secretly) that I didn’t even want to meet them.

It doesn’t really matter now, at this distance. What does matter is what I said on Saturday: “I’m grateful for our three nice children.” Because despite the fact that we’ve spent more years apart, more years as a bi-locational family, than we did under one roof, none of the children turned out to be a nightmare divorce statistic.

And I’m thinking it’s because we kept calling each other to talk about things. We do better on the phone.

All the Single Ladies, Divorce

Second Verse, Same as the First

I’m waiting for LP, who is at an extracurricular, and I’m sitting in a downtown coffee shop in City By the Sea. (Have I called it that lately? I loved the days of the nicknames.) I’m drinking a Milky Way Latte (decaf), which is almost indescribably delicious. This is a coffee shop that used to be further down the block. I remember sitting on similar furniture worrying aloud with a friend I never see anymore about how the price of heating oil had hit — gasp! — $1.25. When was that? 2000? 2001? A long time ago.

I’ve lived here a long time. I’m starting to re-recognize people. And I’m living out a repeat of an unpleasant chapter. No matter how good an idea it is to get divorced in a particular situation, even if you wanted it, it’s not fun to know your ex is out there meeting people via the personals. When Ex1 (The Father of My Children) and I divorced in 1997, all the personals that were personals were in the back of a weekly newspaper that doesn’t exist anymore. You recorded a message, and people could call up and leave you a message in a mailbox. I never ran an ad, but I did leave a few messages, and to my horror, one time, I called to listen to a recording and recognized my recently former husband’s voice. Ack!!!

Now this time I’m not looking myself, but I’ve had the rather hilarious post-marriage experience of having my first ex run into my second ex at a well-known local walking path, where they discussed the health and welfare of my children, after which my second ex thought it appropriate to mention that he had met a woman known to my first ex (they are both contra dancers), and my first ex decided to tell me about it. He theorized that the meeting of his friend and my second ex probably took place courtesy of that new hotbed of personal interaction, Craigslist.

Given that Ex2 had been finding rooms to rent while away at work via Craigslist for the past few years, this all added up.

Although I knew Ex2 was back in the area, I hadn’t let myself think about his social activities. But now I am on the lookout. And today it occurs to me that it’s a happy thing he doesn’t drink coffee, because there’s a very low chance that he’ll make a Craigslist personals date in a coffee shop. So I feel free to drink my Milky Way Latte in peace.

Divorce, Dreams, Genesis, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Call Me Israel

Jacob Wrestling

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

 (Genesis 32:24-28, part of a reading for Pentecost 21C)

It must have been quite a night. Jacob sent his family across the river ahead of him: his wives, his children, his servants, his livestock, all his property as a highly mobile desert patriarch. Was he looking for peace and quiet, or did he anticipate a struggle, or an opportunity?

In the middle of the night, at mid-life or really past it as I edge toward 50, I am struggling with God in the night and trying to call it an opportunity. How am I a different person than I was ten years ago? Or than I was at 24, the age of my oldest child, the age I became his mother? (A terrifying thought! Who ever rated me ready to care for an infant when I was so young myself?)

We’re shifting at home, readjusting our view of what life had been, trying to see what the future will be and bring. I have a new call, and a very sick dog, and my marriage is over.

I am striving with God and humans.

I wake in the night, and I wonder what’s next? And I look back at this year and I think I can never call it the worst year ever, no matter what, because my second son flew out of a car and lived, because all three of my children are wonderful, because I found out who really cares about me, and because two people who cannot live together anymore are doing their best to be merciful about it while caring for a beloved pet who is likely nearing his end.

But like Jacob, I am out of joint, and I may walk with a limp. So call me Israel.