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Posts from the ‘Breaking Up’ Category

Break away!

The definition of tact, passed along by my friend F. and attributed to Winston S. Churchill:

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

F. tells me, as we blast along the highway at 82 mph, that she learned this definition in her childhood, before she really understood what it meant, on a holiday road trip with her parents and two siblings. She remembers reading it somewhere on the East Coast, on a Blue Highway, in a roadside motel with a square swimming pool out front and a diner on the side. The family always stayed at  motels with swimming pools for the kids. They were sitting at the diner, eating, when F. spotted the  framed sign on the wall with a  picture of a fancy woman and a man exiting the room with a big grin on his face. I make her repeat the adage twice so I can store in my long-term memory. She tells me that I have the Churchillesque gift of tact and should start using it to clear a space in my life for a good man to enter.

The drive from Ashland to Bend, a distance of 185 miles that takes us past Crater Lake, turns into a confession-cum-counseling session. My eyes locked on the tarmac in front of me and the vertical rhythm of  evergreens whipping past, I slowly unpack the secrets of my relationship with J. I’m tired of holding them all in, and  I trust my friend to give me the strength to stick with my decision to move on. I know I’ve reached the end of my ability to make excuses for his behavior because my body is one big archipelago of aches: lumbar spine, ankle, wrist — or, as F. tells me, my chakras are screaming bloody protest.

I let myself dig up the episodes, revelations, indignities that did not sit right with me in the course of this six-year relationship, but that I buried under excuses, denial, and fear.  I recognize how crucial it is to my commitment to my course of action to have  another person’s perspective and especially her confirmation of the accuracy of  what I know in my gut is the reality of the situation. It’s best NOT to find excuses for his behavior.


I’m writing about this cryptically because I’m exhausted by the four-hour conversation and need to let it percolate through the various layers of my psyche. There’s an element of shame — for allowing myself to be mistreated for six years and for silencing my good judgment in exchange for the dubious security of a warm body in my bed and the hope that the less than perfect can be polished to perfection, given enough patience, hard work, and idealism.

There’s anger, of course, and fear: fear of confronting a man whose soul is seething with a volcanic anger. There’s the vanity of thinking that of all the women who’ve been in his life, from mother through a sequence of wives, I alone can be the agent of change, the catalyst to his success and the beneficiary of his perfect love. Shame. Anger. Vanity — this is  my trinity of saboteurs  who’ve worked, hand in glove, with the destructive elements in the Man’s personality, eroding my freedom, creativity, health, and joy in life… as well as ripping up the roots that anchor me in community.  I can only pray for the strength to maintain myself on a healthy course and to rise to the challenge and responsibility of taking the best possible care of myself.

I have a seething resentment, as well, for the therapists with whom we worked for four years, for their failure to provide the counsel and support to me that I need to chart a productive course in my life. I think there’s a profound irresponsibility in the therapeutic community’s unwillingness to take ethical positions as well as to recognize when two people are being destructive to each other, and instead, to encourage them to keep looking for ways to stay together and torment each other. The Imago premise that couples are drawn to each other by a mysterious, but unerring radar that makes of the other a perfect partner, chosen to compel one to “grow the missing parts” and compensate for the shortcomings of past partners in love, actually ends up being extremely noxious. At least for me that is the case. I learned some interactive skills — respectful and accurate listening, for example, and strategies for avoiding conflict, but on the other hand, I stayed mired in the illusion that an exploitative relationship was actually good for me.

On another note: as this serious prodding into the denials of the past is taking place, my friend F and I are in hot pursuit of the Target Missoni phenomenon. We go top the Target in Medford, Oregon, at ten in the morning, and find the Missoni collection picked clean by Californians. We race to the Target in Bend, and it’s even worse. I continue alone to the Target in Gresham, assuming that because it’s in an unfashionable suburb, it will have a decent selection of Missoni. Deluded once again: a handful of children’s clothing is left on the racks — maybe a dozen little sweaters and skirts and onesies. Everything else is gone gone gone.

EXCEPT: a pair of ballerina slippers; rubber boots; an underwire bra; socks; tights; a sweater for my nephew; socks for my daughter’s boyfriend; and clothing for a friend’s little girls. So, not too bad, after all.





Two moths, one  flylet,  a winged ant and an invisible dive bombing insects are circling me in the dark as I sit at my brightly lit screen. It’s disconcerting to have a swarm of legs and wings colliding with my back, careening into my head, alighting on my thighs. I lock my fingers  on the keys and try to ignore them.

The coyotes are silent for a spell. Last night there was no sleeping for their howling and yapping. They say the mothers were trying to evict the babies from the den. The youngsters’ voices must have been very distressing to the dogs on the property, because all six  were agitated. The cat threw up on the pillow, and then the dog vomited on the floor. The moon was blasting in the sky and hurling black shadows across the meadow.

My friend and I sat on the balcony with a bottle of Sicilian Donna Fugata, talking about love, heartbreak, disappointment, and hopes that never die.

Today I watched her as, distraught, she prepared herself for a meeting with her faithless lover of two months. They never learn. I never learn either.

The bugs are really getting to me, so I will stop right here with one moth on my right ring finger, and another on my left breast.


Most of today passed in a fog, meteorological as well as and mental. There was a night of patchy sleep, interrupted by the stars but most of all by the light the weekend renters left  at their door out of inertia or paranoia or most likely, they just forgot to turn it off, disoriented by their new surroundings.  I need to be able to see the black  night, the stars, the moon’s  phases (from zero to full) and its path  on the waves. I need to see the obsidian sky soften into an inky wash,  into smoke,  then  into something soft and yellow.

Dawn  was scrap of  blue on the horizon, and  when I woke up again two hours later, the beach was gone, along with the mountain, the ocean, the trees, the seagulls, the morning walkers, the path, the roofs. A  dense , soft, moist, warmth seeped around every object.  It made staying in bed imperative.

I read more of Cloud Atlas, grateful to David Mitchell, the author, for his stylistic virtuosity, ornate plotting, and ventriloquy. He switches plots and styles and voices every forty pages or so, and renews my curiosity about how all this might be connected, because I JUST KNOW that all the fragmentary episodes will fit into a whole that’s not some cheap whole of the book, but into a whole story.

I was walking with Lucy, the six year old  visiting next door, so I couldn’t introspect, on account of she’s very chatty. But even if I’d been alone, I doubt I would have introspected anything worthwhile, because seeing outside and seeing inside are one and the same  for me. I have to be able to fix my eye on something to get the process going. When the fog comes in so thick and still — and it does so just on windless, hot days in July and August — you lose all sense up space. I can see my feet and about two yards around , but the rest is a gaseous swirl. In this swirl I feel lost.  Unsure. Anxious.

I shuffle along on  beach listening to the faint hum  from the squat flat waves that take such a long time to crawl up on the shore. A gray shadow  bursts out of the fog and turns into a black-and-white labradoodle. Two ghosts follow. I am a ghost myself, except for the small cylinder of my own body space where I can see myself and the girl and dog walking next to me.

The afternoon burns off the fog, and for five hours the sky pretends there’s no such thing as a cloud. By sunset, another fog bank spills down the face of the mountain.

Confessional mode:

I’m in a funk. Acid words: “irritated” “parasitism” “deceptions.” Written by a man, of course, who sees into every one of my weaknesses and gives them an evil spin that leaves me disoriented and stumbling in a fog of self doubt and panic.

I get myself into a financial snafoo in which this “someone” is implicated by virtue of holding half of the deed to the house on which I’ve been late paying taxes. More in the confessional mode: I say nothing about the snafoo and meanwhile the amount owing keeps growing. For three years I keep silent,like a mouse waiting for the cobra to strike, taunting it to strike. The power of the weak to undo the strong. My power brings on the wrath of the strong, and abusive words follow, because my power of acting irresponsibly exposes to the strong “someone” his own Achilles heel, his vulnerability to my machinations. This is how I understand the emotional transaction that goes on beneath the level of ethical judgment that he passes in his anger. The judgment that shuts the door on inquiry and understanding by labeling my behavior “irresponsible” or “bad” or “parasitic” or “deceptive.”

End of confession.

The Last Judgment  sets the last  limits:  who’s “in”, who’s “out.” There’s no fog in Fra Angelico’s “Last Judgment.” Everything is clear and polarized into a terrifying symmetry: the just on the Lord’s right, the unjust on His left (the directions are flipped for the viewer).  The goody-two-shoes who’ve passed the test are off dancing and looking very elegant in their new dress clothes. The miserable failures are in denial or despair and are sorted into various subcategories of torment, depending on the nature of their central transgression. The demons are having a heyday doing what they’ve been appointed to do (within the boundaries set for them by the Divine Topographer).

Memling’s “Last Judgment” appoints the Archangel Michael as the henchman who’s doing all the sorting for Christ  who, like the humans, is naked under his scarlet cloak. I’m puzzled by Memling’s dress code here: the angels, who as we know, have no bodies, are fully dressed. The official saints are fully dressed. The little crowd on the left at the entrance to the splendid Gothic cathedral, which I assume is the entry portal to paradise, is a mix of the naked and the dressed. I’m thinking that part of the protocol of “processing” the just involves giving them new clothes. The damned have to stay naked forever.The better to reveal their “deceptions” and “parasitism,” no doubt.

Botticelli does a brilliant job visualizing Dante’s hell as an inverted uterus:

And Gustave Dore drafts a map of hell that is based on the growth rings of a tree:

I suspect I would find a spot in the “Vestibule of the Undecided”! Or not.

I want to end on an upbeat note.

The black petunia outside the bakery on Laneda has the “face” of a Siamese cat!

I’m avoiding the sore spots, so many they’re like a rash, that pock my soul: the letters waiting to be written and sent; the proposals to be drafted; the papers to be returned; the text to be edited; the books to be finished; the relationships to be completed; the taxes to be filed; the taxes to be paid; the closets to be cleaned; the basement to be emptied; the electric switch to be replaced; the weight to be lost… I will, instead of thinking more about them, pretend to slip into this black dress — the dress of the redeemed — and mount the flower saddle on this white horse and gallop into a good night’s sleep.

Bullwhip kelp

I am walking across the beach at low tide thinking about bullwhip kelp [Nereocystis luetkeana] because all around me the stipes that washed up in March and April have dried into strands a fraction the size of the originals. What were turgid, heavy tubes ten, twelve, fourteen feet long — they are reputed to grow as long as 120 feet — are now brittle curls the size of dried willow branches. The bulbs that poke out of the sand look like desiccated heads of garlic.

What’s puzzling me is how my friend manages to get beautifully preserved, sun-bleached specimens that retain their original size and shape. She has several dozen stacked on a large table in her studio overlooking the ocean. They are the color of bone, and from a distance seem to be made of bakelite. You pick one up, and it’s light and not at all fragile, without the smell of ocean you would expect from something that trapped light in sea water.

She showed me how, by puckering the lips and blowing on one end, you make a haunting, hollow trumpeting sound like the call of whales signaling in the vast deep .  Each one sounds a little different, some rougher, some smoother, some with a little more “toot” and some with a little more “tweet”, depending on their length and shape, and the degree of twist and torque in the stipe.

Each Fourth of July, this woman organizes her friends into a bullwhip kelp band and sends them off to march in the town parade, shaking the rattle bulbs filled with rice or beans and blowing the horns, producing the  sounds made by  native Americans living in these coastal inlets before, before the big demographic change — the expropriation by settlers from the east and south and north who had no eye or ear for local ways, but only rushed to replicate, in a new land, the lives they’d left behind.

So walking on the beach I’m wondering how my friend manages to find these beautiful, intact specimens of bullwhip kelp and I realize that I need only consider how she makes her way to the beach, and I’ll have my answer. She lives high above the tumble of rocks and boulders at the base of the mountain that runs into the ocean. There the winter storms pile up logs, stumps, fishing nets, saw horses, buoys, an occasional glass float and giant ribbons of kelp. As I’m thinking all this, I find a perfect long stipe on the boulders, and then look up, and see my friend and her man lying on the beach, blowing into the kelp horns.

We stop to talk. I tell her about my aching bones, my aching gut, my aching heart – the sequelae of my decision to back away from “the relationship.”  No stranger to heartbreak, she listens intently and then rummages around in her scientist head to tell me that when we fall in love our brains kick into the same modality of chemical changes that morphine — or other addictive drugs — induce, and that when we back off from the “love fix,” our bodies go into the same symptoms of withdrawal. I’m not surprised. The Imago therapists with whom my man and I shared every step of our relationship kept talking about the endorphin highs produced during the infatuation phase of courtship and maintained by physical contact (holding hands, embracing, kissing, intercourse). They never talked about the withdrawal effect, though.

The last time I went through this withdrawal I had too many responsibilities to juggle  to afford the luxury of attending to its complex manifestations. I remember  profound humiliation, betrayal, fear, anger, spikes of hostility, shame, regret  all churning in a maelstrom of grief.  In this  roiling current of complex emotions,  memories, glimpses of what was being lost, there was also: my father’s final illness and death… my daughter’s move to college. My uterus went into high gear, breeding fibroids, bleeding, weeping blood every ten days for a week or a fortnight at a stretch, the wrenching cramping below an echo to the heavy dullness in my head. A Gesamtkunstwerk  of pain: heart pain, soul pain, body pain. I doubled up on antidepressants and let the grieving take its subterranean course.

This time it’s different. I have only myself, the dog, and the ocean. And so I can inspect the workings of grief on a cellular level.

The beach, for me, is the proper setting for mourning the death of a future that was projected in the daze of love.

The foreshore teems with the dead: birds, crabs, kelp, seals, sand dollars, trees, fish. And the foreshore teems with the living.I am consoled as long as the waves keep sounding, as the clouds overhead mass and disperse. The sand fleas hop at low tide. The gulls point into the wind.

He writes me, asking : if there’s so much pain in separation, why not fix it? Why not eliminate the cause and simply move myself to be with him, commit to being together.  Because, I tell him:

I will not override the uncertainty. Or sweep my gut instinct under the rug. Or take a leap into an unknown that is even more unknown than the one I inhabit now.

A former student sent me her translation of a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva [Мне нравится, что вы больны не мной] and sparked my curiosity to see what I could do with it. This is  what I came up with.

I like that you, sir,  pine not for me.

I like that I pine not for you.

That the earth’s great globe will never

Glide beneath our feet.

I like that I can tease —

At ease— not mincing words,

Not blushing when sleeves lightly brushing

Send rushing a suffocating wave.

I also like also that to my face

You, sir, casually kiss another,

That you don’t sentence me to hellfire

For kissing, sir, not you.

That you, my sweet, by day, by night, don’t take

My own sweet name in vain —

That never will the strains of  “Hallelujah”

Fade into the tabernacle hush around us.

I thank you, sir, with my hand and heart

For this:  that you, sir – to yourself unknown—

Do love me: for the stillness of my night,

For the rare encounters at sunset hours,

For our non-dalliances by moonlight.

For the sun shining not on our heads, –

For your pining – alas – not for me,

For my pining – alas – not for you.

Hopeless is hopeless

“Hopeless is hopeless and don’t ever pretend it ain’t.” (Lee Child,Tripwire).

I decided to listen to the “universe” today — or to what Tolstoy called the “inner voice” — to hear the definitive verdict on what my plan of action should be in this impasse of a relationship. I had consulted with myself, my closest friends. I had meditated; reflected; pondered; spent agitated hours windexing and brooming and mopping and dusting , trying for serenity, clarity, and the courage to act.

For the hundredth time I went over all the pros and contras: all the ways the relationship worked; all the ways it didn’t. And each time the scale tipped heavy on the side of “didn’t.” It didn’t work because I am not willing to merge my existence, my will, my life agenda with his and relinquish that greatest of luxuries, in my book: the ability to decide, to rely on my own judgment, to trust myself and to be trusted in return.

I took a walk with the dog, and when I set out, I told myself to listen to what would come to me. The pace of walking calmed me. Three blocks from the house, I came to a plane tree, filled with robins and sparrows, bursting with robins and sparrows, chattering in a chorus. I’d never heard such a chatter of birds. Maybe they were anxious about the black and white cat tensed on the sidewalk under the tree, its forelegs hunched ready to spring, the tip of its tail barely twitching, left and right, right and left. Maybe there was a hawk somewhere out of sight. On the next street over, two ravens screamed as they dive bombed the Douglas Fir

–pine, fir, spruce, cedar, hemlock, cypress: he taught me to tell them all apart. I had dreamed of being with a man who could teach me about plants and animals, winds and soils, clouds and waters ever since my father’s father had pulled two leaves from a bush, rubbed them together, and brushed the mush against my cheek, explaining that these were “razor bush” leaves because they scraped against the skin just like a dull razor blade. In this man I found the botanist, the naturalist passionately in love with the earth.  I had dreamed this man twenty years ago, over and over again: a man of the earth, hailing from the High Desert. I met him nearly six years ago, in the Rose Garden, framed by firs, pines, hemlocks, cedars, cypresses, rose bushes, beeches, dogwoods, poplars, maples, huckleberries; leading a pair of toy poodles, rich with stories that enchanted me and that I would hear, over and over again in the years to come. He came to me on August 14, a year after my father died, a year after my partner of 24 years married someone else, a year after my daughter left home for college. He came and filled the vacuum of my life with his vision , his loving, his torment.

–the universe hates a vacuum —

Suddenly, my life was  OUR life, and I was learning words like “carbon sequestration” and “Medusa Head” and “dung beetle” and “Mali” and “adaptive learning” and “greeting circle” and my old ways of steering through intimacy no longer worked and I went to couples’ workshops and couples’ counseling and learned another slew of words and ways of speaking. I held back from judging. I watched and learned. And I made a lot of wrong moves, and caused pain where none had been intended, and crossed boundaries I didn’t know existed, and set of emotional mines because I didn’t know where they were buried or even THAT they were buried.

–The robins, sparrows, and ravens said: “Hopeless is hopeless and don’t ever pretend it ain’t.”

I went to yoga. In the intense heat, breathing a steady rhythm of inhalations and exhalations, stretching, tensing and releasing muscles, tendons, ligaments, contracting and extending, reaching for balance, I let those words — hopeless is hopeless….– work their way through my body.

When the call came, I was calm. I listened to what he told me from his day’s work, his proposal for the future masked as a story of how a respected colleague had survived in a situation similar to the one in which he finds himself —by relying on the support of her husband –. Through that story, I heard him testing the waters with me again, offering a script for me to articulate , appealing to my need to be useful, to be needed, to matter in someone’s life, to matter in his life, to devote myself to sustaining his life and to helping him achieve his dream.

But this time, I couldn’t frame the words of acquiescence, as I had over and over again in the course of the last 70 months. I could only say, “I will have to let you go.”

How did he react? His face froze. He seemed to have stopped breathing. He looked down. And up. And what did he say? Probably more than stayed with me. What stays with me: “Now I can tell the people I’m interested in and who are interested in me, when they ask me if I’m seeing anyone, that there is no woman I love deeply in my life. Now I can find what matters to me: companionship. Trust. A woman who WANTS to be with me. You are always leaving me.”

He told me how deeply he loves he. He cried a little. He said, “see you.” and that was the end of it, more or less.

I am grieving. And oddly, curiosity peeks around the corner of my grief. What will happen next? How will it be? How will he be? I want more than anything for him to be free of his pain, his grief, the sense of abandonment that haunts him since earliest childhood, free to be the glorious and magnificent man  he was born to be.

I drew the “skunk” card today. Here’s what it told me:

Walk tall and be proud of the accomplishments you have made. Bear in mind that what you believe about yourself is your ultimate protection. Project self-respect!… [M]aintain your “right to be.” (Jamie Sams and David Carson, Medicine Cards).